Masks now mandatory inside middle and high schools in B.C.

Masks are now mandatory for students and staff inside high schools and middle schools in British Columbia.

Non-medical grade masks must be worn in all indoor areas, the province announced Thursday, including while students are in their learning cohorts.

A statement from the B.C. Ministry of Education said masks can come off while students are at their workstation in the classroom, while they’re eating and drinking, or while a barrier — like a sheet of Plexiglas — is in place.

Wearing masks indoors is still optional for elementary students. Staff in elementary schools, however, are now also required to wear a mask.

$900K for rapid response teams

The province also announced the creation of six regional rapid response teams — one in each health authority — to support independent schools.

The teams, created with $900,000 in funding, “will continue to improve the speed of school exposure investigations so health authorities can inform school districts and families more quickly.”

The teams will conduct physical and virtual inspections to ensure health and safety guidelines are being followed consistently in K-12 schools.

If there is a serious exposure or in-school transmission, the teams will be sent out to conduct a review and make recommendations to prevent the situation from happening again.

Calls for more safety measures

Parents and teachers have repeatedly called for a number of mandates to help keep schools safer, such as mandatory masks and rapid testing, since in-person classes resumed last September.

Results released Wednesday of a survey commissioned by the B.C. Teachers’ Federation suggested more than half of teachers felt unsafe in the classroom during the pandemic and the vast majority wanted to see masks become mandatory.

The poll of 4,186 teachers found 57.8 per cent did not feel safe during in-person instruction and 86.9 wanted to see all adults wearing face masks or shields. A slightly smaller portion — 79.9 per cent — said students should wear masks as well. 

The push increased this week after news of possible exposure to a new coronavirus variant at Garibaldi Secondary School in Maple Ridge, B.C.

Officials confirmed Wednesday someone at the school was infected with a more transmissible form of the virus, but has since recovered. A total of 81 students and eight staff members who are in that person’s cohort were all tested to see if the virus had spread, and all of them tested negative.

Students are pictured on a school bus after classes end at Earl Marriott Secondary School in Surrey, B.C., on Jan. 4. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Over the fall, Henry has said data shows transmission of COVID-19 is generally low in schools

According to the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, 2,868 children under the age of 10 in B.C. have tested positive for the virus as of Tuesday — about four per cent of all cases in the province.

Current guidelines for schools are different than those for the rest of the public. Masks are recommended but not mandatory, and the rule for physical distancing is one metre apart instead of two.

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