Teachers in masks. Classroom sizes reduced. Spray bottles of sanitizer ready for little hands at doorways.

There will be no such thing as normal for Canadian students, public health officials believe, should they even be allowed back to school in 2020.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced schools across the country shut their doors in mid-March. Now, as provinces push ahead on their individual reopening plans, experts are questioning the effectiveness of physical-distancing measures for children and their impact on education.

“Kids want to hug, they want to be close,” said Colin Furness, an infection control epidemiologist and assistant professor at the University of Toronto.

“I have two young kids. You can explain to them what’s going on and they can understand it, but it’s the kind of self-restraint it takes. It’s different from telling kids to stay away from strangers on the street. This is their buddies on the playground, the close play, close contact… Their hands get into everything.”

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Public health protocols have infiltrated nearly every walk of life in Canada, and schools are no different.