All middle and secondary students in BC as well as K-12 staff will now be required to wear non-medical masks in all indoor areas, including when they are with their learning groups, the provincial government announced today.
The announcement was made during a joint press conference with BC Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, and BC School Trustees Association President Stephanie Higginson.
“We have worked with provincial health and our partners on a continuous review of the guidelines, adapting and responding when needed,” she said. “We want students, their families and staff to feel confident with the safety measures in place. That’s why we’re making these updates.”
Prior to these changes, masks were required for middle and secondary students and all K-12 staff in high-traffic areas, like hallways and outside of classrooms or learning groups when they could not safely distance from others.
The only exceptions to the new guidelines are when:
- students are sitting or standing at their seat or workstation in a classroom;
- there is a barrier in place;
- they are eating or drinking.
Whiteside said that for elementary students, wearing masks indoors remain a personal choice.
Asked why these updated guidelines don’t apply to that demographic, Henry said children in this age range “don’t get as sick with this, don’t pass it on as well as others, and as families know, it’s very challenging for young people to have a mask on all the time, and so we still have it as an option.”
She noted that masking “can be counterproductive, particularly for young people who have challenges with keeping it [their mask] on all the time and not fiddling with it.”
Whiteside noted that with regards to elementary students wearing masks, the wording has changed from “not recommended’ to “not required.”
She said the wording was having an “interesting impact” in terms of how people interpreted the medical advice, and it was changed in an effort to “make it a little bit easier to have that mask encouragement where elementary schools feel that they want to have it.
Guidelines have also been strengthened for physical education and music classes: High-intensity physical activities are to be held outside as much as possible. Shared equipment or items, such as weight machines, treadmills or musical instruments, can be used only if they are cleaned between use, according to strict school sanitization guidelines.
Students using equipment or playing instruments should also be spaced at least two metres apart and masks are to be used when singing, the province said.
“Since the start of the school year, we have paid close attention to our schools and learned much, including the importance of having robust safety plans and using the layers of protection,” said Henry.
“Masks are one important layer, and these updated guidelines will strengthen how and where they should be used to protect everyone.”