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COVID-19 and schools: Mask mandate in place for students in Grade 4 and higher, B.C. officials announce

Vancouver -

With students returning to class in two weeks, B.C.'s top doctor and education minister have announced the province's back-to-school plan amid the fourth wave in COVID-19 cases.

Part of the plan will include the reimplementation of a mask mandate for students in Grade 4 and up and for staff working with all grades.

Students will return to full-time, in-class learning and regional measures may be implemented as needed in communities where transmission is higher.

Dr. Bonnie Henry and Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside unveiled the strategy during a morning news conference Tuesday.

"This means students can look forward to a resumption of safe, in-person full-time learning, extra-curricular activities," Whiteside said.

Cohorts or learning groups will not be used this school year, but students will be required to complete daily health checks and stay home when they're feeling sick.

"What we have focused on and what we know parents and students are looking forward to is full-time, in-person learning," Whiteside said.

"We are not in the same position now coming into this school year as we were last year. We have vaccines, we have very high uptake with respect to vaccines and we know the best place for children to be learning is in schools with all of the supports that are there."

Vaccinations won't be required for staff or eligible students, however. Whiteside didn't explain why a mandate wasn't in place, but said there has been a "dramatic uptake" in vaccinations among staff and students.

"Please, if you have not yet had your vaccination, now is your time. That is the best way to protect children in our schools," she said.

The BC Teachers' Federation said on social after the announcement that it "would not oppose" mandatory vaccines for educators.

"We would need to see details about protection of privacy and accommodations for workers with exemptions," the post said. "In the meantime, we need to focus on masks for all, ventilation and distancing."

Officials also said $87.5 million was used to improve school ventilation.

When the province announced its initial back-to-school plans in June, it was expected there would be a return to "near normal" in the fall. However, the province has recorded a steady increase in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks that have primarily been the highly infectious Delta variant. Top Stories

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