United Conservative Party Leader and Premier Danielle Smith celebrates her win in a byelection in Medicine Hat, Alta., on Nov. 8, 2022. Smith says she won't mandate masks in schools as Alberta fights a wave of viral illnesses sending thousands of students home sick and pushing hospital capacity to dangerous levels. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Alberta premier says no school mask rules as viral cases rise, jamming hospitals

Premier Danielle Smith says she won’t mandate masks in schools as Alberta fights a wave of viral illnesses sending thousands of students home sick and pushing hospital capacity to dangerous levels.

Smith says anyone who wants to wear a mask is free to do so, but her focus is on procuring more medicine for children and reducing long wait times in hospital emergency rooms.

Ontario’s pediatric care system is under similar strain and its chief medical officer of health says he is recommending residents mask in all public settings and is considering making it mandatory in schools again.

Alberta schools are seeing high rates of absenteeism due to a wave of illnesses, including COVID-19, the flu and RSV.

The Alberta Children’s Hospital in Calgary and the Stollery Children’s Hospital in Edmonton are dealing with a spike in patients, some seriously ill.

Smith has been critical of COVID-19 mask rules in schools, saying they adversely affected the mental health, development and education of students.

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