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.
Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside are holding a news conference at 10 a.m. PT. Stephanie Higginson, president of the B.C. School Trustees Association, will also be speaking.
CBC News will livestream the announcement.
Leaders will also be announcing “more funding to support the continued safe operations of schools throughout the province,” according to a statement released before the event.
No further details on safety guidelines or increased funding were immediately provided.
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 feel unsafe in the classroom during the pandemic and the vast majority want to see masks become mandatory.
The poll of 4,186 teachers found 57.8 per cent do not feel safe during in-person instruction and 86.9 want 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.
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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