Public health talking to Quebec military college after officer cadets appear to flout mask rules

Officer cadets at the Royal Military College Saint-Jean are used to following orders, but there are new questions about whether they're doing the same when it comes to following public health rules.

College members at the RMC in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., 40 kilometres south of Montreal, are allowed to sit in the classroom without a face mask, even though Quebec mandates all students in higher education wear one while seated in class.

According to the government directive, "Wearing the procedure mask is mandatory at all times for students, even when they are seated in class or at the library, with some exceptions during activities that require it."

That can include, for example, playing musical instruments or doing theatre.

However, Capt. Rachel Lefebvre, an RMC Saint-Jean public affairs officer, told CTV News in an email that all personnel, including officer cadets, can remove their face masks while seated in the classroom "if distancing themselves from other people sitting by at least one metre."

She added that "inside classrooms, the teacher’s desk is at least two metres from student desks. If laboratory or teamwork is required, not allowing the required distancing, mask wearing is required."

When asked to comment on the flouting of public health guidelines, Quebec’s Ministry of Health and Social Services said that there might be some changes coming.

"Discussions are currently underway between the Royal Military College of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu and the [local public health department] to explore possible solutions and means to adapt to the health regulations in effect in Quebec and to protect the population from an upsurge of the COVID-19 virus," wrote spokesperson Marie-Louise Harvey.

The email did not elaborate on what “solutions” are being discussed.

The revelation that officer cadets at RMC Saint-Jean weren't wearing masks was first reported by Radio-Canada.

Lefebvre noted that 96 per cent of all officer cadets have been fully vaccinated and that "RMC Saint-Jean follows COVID-19 preventive measures, as advised by the Canadian Forces Health Services and the regional public health authority."

She also said that students "are required to wear a mask when moving around inside all buildings on the campus."

The RMC also confirmed that officer cadets are free to leave campus on the weekends and return to the college, but that they must follow “all COVID-19 preventive measures as advised by the Canadian Forces Health Services and the regional public health authority.”

The news comes after a new study by McGill University researchers and others that says that without face masks, two-metre physical distancing might not be enough to prevent the spread of the coronavirus indoors.

“Mask mandates and good ventilation are critically important to curb the spread of more contagious strains of COVID-19," said study author Saad Akhtar in a release, "especially during the flu season and winter months as more people socialize indoors."

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