(Pixabay)

(Pixabay)

B.C. expands mandatory mask rules in schools, rolls out ‘rapid response teams’

Masks will be mandatory for middle and high school students except for a few scenarios

The province is increasing the amount of time that students must wear non-medical masks while in schools during the pandemic.

In an announcement Thursday (Feb. 4), education and health officials said that masks will be mandatory 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.

That means that masks will be required even when students are only interacting with their learning groups, which can include up to 120 students for high schools. The rules originally introduced in September only required students in middle and high schools to wear masks in high traffic areas such as hallways, and only outside of learning groups.

Masks will now also be mandatory for middle and high schools students who are singing in music classes, while those playing instruments must be at least two metres apart. For physical education classes, high intensity activities must be held outside “as much as possible.” Any shared equipment, such as treadmills, weights and musical instruments, can only be used if they are cleaned between use.

The province said that any activities that include “prolonged physical contact should not be a part of physical education or any other classroom learning.” Examples of allowed activities include tag or touch football, since physical contact is limited, while activities like wrestling or partnered dancing are “should be avoided.”

Masks will remain a “personal choice” for elementary school students. Speaking at a press conference Thursday morning, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said that the decision was made because young kids do not appear to develop severe disease as a result of the novel coronavirus, and that it’s difficult for children to wear masks properly without fiddling with them.

Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside said that the messaging on masks for elementary school students has now changed from “not recommended” to “not required,” making it easier to children who can handle masks to wear them.

Whiteside said that while infection rates in schools have remained low, rules have to adapt. Whiteside said that even though masks are now mandatory in more areas at school, it’s still important that sick students stay home.

“We’ve had very little spread within the school area, and particularly within classrooms,” Henry said. She said however that a student infected with the U.K. variant in a Maple Ridge school was of concern to B.C., and that it reflected the transmission of that variant in the wider community.

When asked about why students don’t need to wear masks at classrooms, Henry said that it’s a “low risk scenario” and that B.C. has not seen transmission from such behaviour. She also said that school rules also mirror rules in other locations, such as restaurants, where masks don’t need to be worn while seated.

The province has also announced $900,000 for six regional rapid response teams, one for each health authority and one for independent schools. The teams will be made up of school representatives from schools and provincial staff. The province said they will help speed up school exposure investigations to inform school districts and families more quickly. The teams will conduct physical or virtual site inspections to ensure K-12 COVID health and safety guidelines are being followed consistently.

The province is also allocating $101.1 million to school districts and $7.5 million to independent schools and providing school districts an additional $3.5 million to manage COVID-19 exposures in schools, as well as $8.2 million to support Indigenous students.

The funding comes from the second instalment of a total of $242.4 in federal education funding that Ottawa announced before schools opened this fall.

B.C. Liberal interim leader Shirley Bond said the opposition wants some of the federal funds directed to improving ventilation in schools, an early recommendation from public health officials.

“We have seen very little detail about what the government’s priorities are for the use of that funding,” Bond said. “We’re glad to see that some steps have been taken, but it’s halfway through the school year and parents have been concerned about this for quite some time.”

The B.C. Teachers’ Federation said it was happy to see expanded mask mandates in schools, but that more needed to be done.

“The changes do not include improvements to school density, ventilation, or the ongoing inadequacy of contact tracing,” president Teri Mooring said. “We need the government, school districts, and health authorities to step up and make improvements in those areas as well. More can be done to protect teachers, other education workers, students, and the families we all go home to. The employer and health officials have the power to take those steps.”

Schools districts and independent schools will have to ensure that all facilities are following the amended COVID rules by Feb. 26.

READ MORE: B.C. teachers call for mandatory masks, report burnout over fears of COVID-19


@katslepian

katya.slepian@bpdigital.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusEducationSchools

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Crews respond to a structure fire in the 6000 block of Renton Road in Cherry Creek on Saturday, Feb. 27. (FACEBOOK PHOTO)
Workshop destroyed in Cherry Creek fire

Crews stayed on scene overnight fighting ‘stubborn’ blaze

(NEWS FILE PHOTO)
Tax error in 2020 means lower rate for residents in 2021

Alberni’s taxation for regional library accidently written down twice

Part of a new housing development proposal for the former Alberni District Secondary School site. (SCREENSHOT)
Housing gap widens in Port Alberni

Vancouver Island city suffers from ‘missing middle’ to housing density

Gina Adams as she works on her latest piece titled ‘Undying Love’. (Submitted photo)
‘Toothless’ the kitty inspires Vancouver Island wood carver to break out the chainsaw

Inspired by plight of a toothless cat, Gina Adams offers proceeds from her artwork to help animals

The Port Alberni Train Station is located outside the entrance to Harbour Quay, on Harbour Road in Port Alberni. (AV NEWS FILE PHOTO)
Port Alberni gets funding to restore heritage train station

Historic train station needs seismic upgrades

A health worker holds a vial of AstraZeneca vaccine to be administered to members of the police at a COVID-19 vaccination center in Mainz, Germany, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. The federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate, start with the vaccination of police officers in internal police vaccination centers. (Andreas Arnold/dpa via AP)
B.C. officials to unveil new details of COVID vaccination plan Monday

Seniors and health-care workers who haven’t gotten their shot are next on the list

A boat caught fire in Ladysmith Harbour on Saturday morning. (Photo submitted)
Search underway for missing woman after boat catches fire in Ladysmith harbour

A large boat caught fire on the morning of Saturday, Feb. 27

Lone orca from a pod that made its way north from Georgia Strait and into Discovery Passage on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021. Photo by Ella Smiley/<a href="https://www.facebook.com/Comoxvalleywildlifesightings/?ref=page_internal" target="_blank">Comox Valley Wildlife Sightings </a>
Island wildlife viewers thrilled by close view of passing Orca pod

Group gives wildlife photographers a classic opportunity to view them off Campbell River shoreline

An investigation is underway after a man was shot and killed by Tofino RCMP in Opitsaht. (Black Press Media file photo)
Man shot and killed by RCMP near Tofino, police watchdog investigating

Investigation underway by Independent Investigations Office of British Columbia.

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver on Tuesday December 11, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C.’s compromise on in-person worship at three churches called ‘absolutely unacceptable’

Would allow outdoor services of 25 or less by Langley, Abbotsford and Chilliwack churches

Baldy Mountain Resort was shut down on Saturday after a fatal workplace accident. (Baldy Mountain picture)
Jasmine and Gwen Donaldson are part of the CAT team working to reduce stigma for marginalized groups in Campbell River. Photo by Marc Kitteringham, Campbell River Mirror
Jasmine’s story: Stigma can be the hardest hurdle for those overcoming addiction

Recovering B.C. addict says welcome, connection and community key for rebuilding after drug habit

Most Read