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BREAKING: Masks mandatory in B.C. middle and high school classrooms

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry
Image Credit: SUBMITTED / Province of B.C.
February 04, 2021 - 10:48 AM

Many students, and all staff, will now be required to wear masks, at times, in B.C. classrooms to help reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Minister of Education Jennifer Whiteside made that announcement today, Feb. 4.

All middle and secondary school students must wear masks in classrooms, rather than just in common areas. They are still optional for elementary school students.

The only exception for the older students will be when sitting or standing at their desks or if there are physical barriers or while eating.

That change means that, if students get up from their desks to walk around within the classroom or work in groups, they will have to wear masks, Whiteside said.

High-intensity physical education should be outside wherever possible, Whiteside said, and any shared exercise equipment or musical instruments must be cleaned between uses. Masks must also be worn when singing.

“Masks, by themselves, are not the answer,” provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said. “They, on their own, will not control COVID.”

Hand cleaning, keeping safe distances and staying at home when feeling even slightly sick are essential.

“Schools are a reflection of our communities,” Dr. Henry said. “I anticipate, as we continue to have spread in our communities, we will continue to have exposures in our schools.”

Current restrictions have helped minimize transmission of COVID within schools but the additional measures, such as for physical education and music, will cut down on spread where it has happened in the past, Dr. Henry said.

Stephanie Higginson, president of the B.C. School Trustees Association, said over 90 per cent of all public school students have returned to class, indicating the confidence families have in sending their children to schools.

The province committed another $121.2 million of federal funds towards these enhanced safety measures, Whiteside said. That goes along with the $288 of federal and provincial money already spent.

“Today’s changes will make schools safer and that is welcome news,” B.C. Teachers Federation President Teri Mooring said in a news release. “However, the changes do not include improvements to school density, ventilation, or the ongoing inadequacy of contact tracing. We need the government, school districts, and health authorities to step up and make improvements in those areas as well.”

Whiteside said that the guidelines are constantly under review and the federal money will be used for things like hiring more custodians and psychologist, but also personal protective equipment, ventilation and barriers.

— With files from The Canadian Press

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