Variant in schools means it’s time for all students in B.C. to wear masks: union

Variant in schools means it's time for all students in B.C. to wear masks: union

The head of the teachers’ union in British Columbia is urging public health officials to expand guidelines on masks to include elementary students after seven schools reported cases involving a COVID-19 variant.

Teri Mooring of the B.C. Teachers Federation (BCTF) says school districts should be allowed to impose measures based on their needs, considering the variants were all found in schools in the Fraser Health region.

Variants of concern have been identified in all seven schools and health officials say testing so far indicates it is linked to the one first identified in the United Kingdom.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced mandatory mask guidelines earlier this month for students in middle and high schools, however, elementary school children were not included.

Mooring says she doesn’t agree with the current directive, which says students don’t have to wear masks at their desks.

Henry has said that’s the same as in offices or restaurants, but Mooring says students sit close together and the other environments don’t compare well with schools.

The teacher’s federation is also calling on the government to implement rapid testing in schools as well.

The #BCpoli government and health officials have the power to make schools safer and they must use that power. With COVID-19 variants clearly spreading in communities, it is time for these officials to take immediate action,” the federation said in a tweet.

“This is not the time to be conservative with testing. Everyone connected to a class with a COVID-19 variant exposure should receive a rapid test,” adds the BCTF.

Over this past weekend, Island Health announced a series of new COVID-19 cases within schools, adding 11 different facilities onto the Exposures in Schools list as of Monday morning.

The majority of the Island school exposures include multiple days of possible risk to students and staff at each facility.

The Minister of Education, Jennifer Whiteside, alongside Dr. RĂ©ka Gustafson, deputy provincial health officer, took questions from the media on Monday about COVID-19 and variants in schools, specifically regarding the Fraser Health region.

During the availability, Dr. Gustafson said that health officials in the province do not foresee changing the current mask rules at schools in the near future.

With files to the Canadian Press.

Graham CoxGraham Cox

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