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Masks now mandatory for K to 3 students

By Hannah Scott, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

Published 11:37 PDT, Fri October 1, 2021

All students in B.C. schools will be required to wear masks, including those in Kindergarten to Grade 3, beginning on Monday.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said today that there has been a steady rise in COVID-19 cases in children, particularly those aged five to 11 who are in school but not yet eligible for vaccination. In the last two weeks, there has been a “rapid increase.”

“Increased diagnoses have led to increased numbers of potential exposure events and several school outbreaks have also been detected and reported,” she said.

Henry was asked about mandating masks for younger children during Tuesday's press conference, but said schools “still have many layers of protection,” including masking.

“We are seeing increased cases in school-aged children. That means that school-aged children, some of them will be coming to school with COVID. We know that the things that we need to have in place in schools to prevent transmission in the school setting are myriad,” said Henry. “I have tasked our school team that works together, they meet two or three times a week to look at every individual situation, and particularly look at those communities where we have higher transmission rates and lower vaccination rates to see what we need to do in the province to make sure we can make schools continue to operate safely.”

When asked at a press conference today what had changed since Tuesday, Henry said all the decisions hadn’t yet been made at that time, hence the new mandate.

“We’ve been monitoring the data, and I’m not the only person who makes these decisions, so it is something that we have a large group of people working on—it’s public health, it’s in partnership with school districts, parent advisory committees and others, so it was a matter of time once we had the data that we presented on Tuesday to look at what are the important measures that we need to do, so I indicated I thought quite clearly on Tuesday that these were things we were looking at, we weren’t at the place yet where we had all of the decisions made.”

Beginning this month, the provincial health officer will release a new monthly report that will inform British Columbians about the virus and how it effects school-aged children.

The province said in August that regional medical health officers (MHOs) may recommend additional health and safety measures in response to local and regional conditions. MHOs will continue to work with school districts to recommend any additional regional measures as required.

The province says its health and safety guidelines include daily health checks, hand washing, staying home when sick and improved ventilation systems. The guidelines also contain strategies for schools to help create space between people, including staggered recess, lunch breaks and class transition times, managing the flow of people in common areas, and using available space to spread people out.

To see updated K-12 health and safety guidelines, click here.

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