After 47 students and staff tested positive for COVID-19 at Earl Marriott Secondary School in Surrey in the days leading up to the Christmas break, contract tracers determined there was a common denominator: the school gym. 

“You’ve got a number of classes sharing a space, they’re really exerting themselves, playing games and being physically active. We also had weight rooms, so that is the link,” said Surrey school superintendent Jordan Tinney. “They say all of the cases are linked to those classes and common space, there was no transmission in the rest of the school.”

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says schools should take another look at how they are conducting P.E. classes, saying “the fact that it’s happened in one place means that we need to re-look at how it is done and can be done safely.” But Henry again stopped short of mandating masks.

“We know that when you’re exercising and physical exercise, when (masks) get moist they are not as effective, so I don’t think that’s the answer to P.E. classes. But I do think there are things that need to be put in place to make sure that if P.E. classes are being offered, they are offered safely,” said Henry, though she didn’t give any suggestions about what changes should be made. 

Tinney also thinks schools can continue to offer P.E. “I think its on the tier of what’s possible. I think you don’t have to have students basically face to face,” he said.

Tinney is suggesting schools look at physically distanced gym classes during the winter months. 

“This will be the worst time, January through March, when its wet, when you can’t go outside for P.E. So I’m saying that where you can, you should be having students physically distanced, you should try to have activities where students don’t come in close proximity when they are really exerting themselves.”

Tinney acknowledges the 47 cases at Earl Marriott are unnerving for a lot of parents and students who returned to class on Monday.

“So I’m sure it has shaken the confidence of some, but I’m confident in the school, I’m confident in the staff, I’m confident in the district’s desire to support people to make it safe,” he said.