As of Oct. 4 all students from Kindergarten to Grade 12 attending school — as well as staff and visitors to schools — must wear a mask while inside the schools, including while at their desks and on buses.

By Timothy Schafer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Published  Oct 04, 2021

All school-aged children are now mandated to wear a mask while in class starting Monday as the province continues to tighten the controls on society in the midst of the fourth wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

As of Oct. 4 all students from Kindergarten to Grade 12 attending school — as well as staff and visitors to schools — must wear a mask while inside the schools, including while at their desks and on buses, provincial health officer (PHO) Dr. Bonnie Henry announced on Friday.

School District No. 8 (Kootenay Lake) will also comply with the order, issuing its own directive Friday as well, aligned with the PHO.

That overturns an earlier decision when the school year started in September to require only children from Grade 4 and up to wear a mask while in school.

However, the province’s regulations are not relevant to children in distributed learning (including learning in non-traditional settings) or homeschooling, but are recommended. 

Even though Dr. Henry noted “schools continue to be considered low-risk settings for COVID-19 transmission,” she said that vaccines were the “most effective way to reduce the risk of COVID-19 in schools.”

She went on to say that people who were not vaccinated were at higher risk of getting and spreading COVID-19. 

“Most COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are now among unvaccinated adults, and are predominantly occurring in communities with lower general vaccination uptake,” her provincial directive released on Friday stated.

“While children under 12 are not currently eligible to be vaccinated, they continue to be less likely to get and spread COVID-19 and have a low risk of serious outcomes if they do get COVID-19. It is strongly recommended that adults interacting with children under 12 be fully vaccinated.”

In the provincial order the PHO stated that “vaccines used in B.C. are highly effective against COVID-19, including among variants of concern. 

“Vaccinated people aged 12 and older tend to have milder illness if they get infected and are also less likely spread COVID-19 than unvaccinated people 12 and older.” 

As of Aug. 22, 83 per cent of eligible people 12 and older in B.C. had received their first needle and 75 per cent had received their second. As of the same date, around 72 per cent of people aged 12-17 had the first COVID-19 needle and 58 per cent had a second one. 

Beginning this month, the Provincial Health Office will also be releasing a new monthly report that will inform British Columbians about the virus and how it affects school-aged children.

Opting out

According to the SD8 Communicable Disease Plan COVID-19 (updated on Oct. 1) there are exemptions for students — as well as staff and visitors — to the mandate for wearing a mask.

Children who cannot tolerate wearing a mask for health or behavioral reasons, or are unable to put on or remove a mask without the assistance of another person do not have to wear a mask. 

People can remove a mask temporarily to identify themselves, or to engage in an educational activity that cannot be performed while wearing a mask.

As well, if students are eating or drinking, behind a barrier or helping someone with a disability where visual cues are important, a mask can be removed.

“If a staff, student or visitor is unable to wear a mask, other controls should remain in place,” the plan read. 

Although the province mandates mask wearing, the provincial order also noted that “ no student should be prevented from attending or fully participating at school if they do not wear a mask.”

The order from the PHO also dismissed the idea that poor ventilation and air circulation would contribute to the spread of the virus.

“Good indoor air ventilation alone cannot protect people from exposure to  COVID-19; however, it may reduce risk when used in addition to other preventive measures,” the order read.

Game on

Although masks are required to be worn during indoor physical education classes for low-intensity activities, they can be taken off when outside or engaging in high-intensity indoor activities.

As well, all intra- and inter-school programs, activities — intramurals, sports team practices, games — sports academies and events can continue. However, there are some further rules attached:

• requirements of relevant local, regional and provincial public health recommendations and orders for community gatherings and events; 

• masks are worn by K-12 students, staff and other adults when they are indoors and a barrier is not present; 

• students are not required to wear masks during high-intensity sport activities;

• use all available space to spread students and staff out as much as possible;
• shared equipment can be used, provided it is cleaned and disinfected;

• students should be encouraged to practice proper hand hygiene before and after using frequently touched pieces of equipment;

• equipment that touches the mouth (e.g. water bottles) should not be shared unless cleaned and disinfected in between uses;

Source: BC Ministry of Health

People can email if there are further any questions.

Further reading

• Kootenay Lake has updated its Communicable Disease Plan as of Oct. 1.

• Provincial plan Updated Provincial K-12 health and safety guidelines

This item is reprinted with permission from The Nelson Daily. See article HERE.

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