Finally, provincial governments are loosening public health restrictions. Based on what many health officials are saying, there’s a good chance that our country will be largely free of these restrictions by spring.
And not a moment too soon, particularly for our young people. Even though kids are in the age group that is least likely to experience severe complications from the COVID-19 virus, they have been the most negatively impacted by public health restrictions over the last two years.
Our young people have suffered enormously from extended school closures, sports activities cancellations, onerous masking requirements, and limited ability to socialize with their peers. Two years of pandemic restrictions have taken a toll on them, and it is time we put their needs first.
Provincial governments can start by ensuring that school closures are a thing of the past. There is little to no evidence that school closures helped slow the spread of COVID-19. There is, however, plenty of evidence that school closures caused significant harm to students. As the Canadian Paediatric Society pointed out last month, “there has been increased strain on paediatric and community hospitals due to mental health admissions.”
It’s important to remember that school closures do not affect everyone equally. While children from upper-income families often had access to other programming and supports, those from lower-income families often lost the only supports they had. In other words, school closures have a disproportionately negative impact on students who need help and support the most.
Even when schools remained open, students were often burdened with onerous mask requirements and unrealistic distancing expectations. These policies were more about making adults feel safe than about protecting students. It’s ironic that so many fully vaccinated adults have very little confidence in the vaccine’s ability to protect them from COVID-19.
While many U.S. states have already dropped mandatory mask rules in schools, most students across Canada are still required to wear masks, even when seated in class and are six feet apart. Considering that every student and adult in school who wants to be vaccinated has already been vaccinated, it makes no sense to keep forcing students to wear masks.
If we believe that these vaccines protect people from COVID-19, it’s time we start acting like it.
However, that isn’t what we are doing. In far too many cases, vaccinated adults remain paralyzed by fear. They want schools to be closed, businesses to be shut down, social gatherings to be limited or banned, and mask rules to be strictly enforced. These demands make about as much sense as equipping your car with all the latest safety features and then refusing to drive it because you might die in a crash anyway.
The reality is that if you are vaccinated and have reasonably normal health, then you should not be afraid of COVID-19. Yes, there is a chance that you could be that statistical outlier who dies from this virus. For that matter, you might also be that unlucky person who gets struck by lightning, drowns in a swimming pool, or dies in a plane crash. However, rational people accept the reality of risk and go on living their lives.
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Of course, if you are severely immunocompromised, it makes perfect sense for you to take extra precautions, whether vaccinated or not. But this has always been the case since immunocompromised people are also at heightened risk from common illnesses such as the yearly flu virus.
Simply put, there is no excuse for continuing to subject students to health restrictions that are more about assuaging the concerns of irrationally fearful adults than genuinely protecting students’ lives. Young people are the future of our country, and it is wrong to sacrifice their best interests for the sake of irrational adults.
Canada must be a country that respects personal freedom. This means that we allow people to make their own choices, even when those choices might be detrimental to them. If you are fearful about catching COVID-19, then get vaccinated and take whatever safety measures you think necessary. But stop obsessing over what everyone else is doing and focus instead on your own behaviour.
Students deserve much better than what they have received over the past two years. For their sake, we must end public health restrictions and let people make their own decisions. Canada needs to be, once again, glorious and free.
Michael Zwaagstra is a public high school teacher, a senior fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, and the author of A Sage on the Stage: Common Sense Reflections on Teaching and Learning.
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