The province is amending its public health guidance to “support and encourage students down to Grade 4 to wear masks while at school.”
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry made the announcement when she brought in a slew of new COVID restrictions Monday (March 29).
However, despite repeated requests, the province has not yet clarified what whether “support and encourage” means that masks will be mandatory. The B.C. Teachers’ Federation has said on social media that the mandate will mirror one imposed on Surrey this past weekend.
If so, the move could require masks at all times for students Grade 4, as in Surrey, except for when eating and for those medically unable to wear, or take on and off, a mask.
Henry’s announcement comes just an hour after the B.C. Teachers’ Federation called on the province to expand a recently imposed Surrey mask mandate to schools in Vancouver Coastal Health.
In a Monday news release, the BCTF pointed to federal officials urging stronger public health measures to prevent a resurgence in COVID cases as variants of concern continue to spread, as well as call for school mask mandates from Dr. Anthony Fauci south of the border. B.C. has seen near-record numbers of cases in recent days, with 908 reported Friday. The weekend’s cases are due to be reported early Monday afternoon.
Other provinces have brought in more stringent mask mandates for students; in Ontario, which has entered its third wave, masks are required from Grade 1 and up when kids cannot maintain physical distancing; in Quebec, students in Grade 1 and up in red zones must wear masks at all times, with loosened rules in orange zones with fewer infections.
In Surrey, which has continued to be a hotspot for COVID cases, masks were made mandatory “at all times” for students in Grade 4 and above as of this week. In the rest of B.C. masks have been mandatory since February in middle schools and high schools except for three scenarios: when students are at their own desk or workstation, when they are eating or drinking and when there is a plexiglass barrier between them.
Teachers’ associations across Vancouver Coastal Health said they need better communication.
“We have asked again and again for a mask mandate and we have been consistently disappointed. This is about adding layers of protection to ensure we have done everything possible to protect the health and safety of teachers and students. This is about increasing confidence in school safety and reducing anxiety,” said Liz Baverstock, president of the Richmond Teachers’ Association.
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