As of Tuesday, April 6, students in Grade 4 and up will be wearing masks for the time-being, as they return from spring break.
Comox Valley Schools announced the move following new provincial health orders on March 29 and an update from the Ministry of Education, in response to a hike in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks.
Everyone including staff in all grades, volunteers, visitors and students from Grade 4 to Grade 12 will have to wear masks at all times while inside buildings or riding a school bus. Masks must also be worn outside if physical distancing cannot be maintained.
The school district news release also mentioned cases for exemptions: if someone cannot wear a mask for health or behavioural reasons; is unable to put on or remove a mask without assistance from another person; if it is temporarily removed for someone to identify themselves; if the person is engaging in an educational activity that cannot be performed with a mask such as playing a wind instrument; while eating or drinking; is behind a barrier; or providing a service to a person with a disability or diverse ability, where visual cues, facial expressions, or lip reading or movements are important.
While not mandatory, students from kindergarten to Grade 3 are also encouraged to wear masks within these guidelines.
Some have been calling for masks in schools, including the BC Teachers’ Federation.
“B.C. teachers have been calling on the government, health officials and school districts to enhance health and safety measures in our schools for months,” BCTF president Teri Mooring said in a news release. “From inconsistent mask use and poor ventilation to an inability to maintain physical distance in our classrooms, people are incredibly frustrated with how inadequate COVID-19 prevention measures have been in our schools.”
The Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents educational assistants, support staff and bus drivers, among other employees, also backed the move, describing it as “welcome news” to supplement current safety measures required by the provincial guidelines and school district COVID safety plans.
Through early 2021, schools have been subject to reports of exposures, including several in the Comox Valley starting in February. Despite the increase in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, there were only two exposures in Vancouver Island schools as of April 1, with none locally. Following earlier school cases, public health officials explained in early March there had been no secondary exposures in school communities and that the cases had resulted from other social contact.