VANCOUVER -- When students return to school in September, some will be required to wear masks in high traffic areas.

The update came from B.C.'s education ministry Monday, saying, "masks will be required for staff, middle and secondary students in high traffic areas such as buses and in common areas such as hallways, or anytime outside of their learning group whenever physical distancing cannot be maintained."

Exceptions will be made for students who can't wear masks for medical reasons and physical distancing will still be required between students in different learning groups. 

In its update, the education ministry said efforts will be made to reduce crowding or congregating, even if masks are being worn. 

"In order to support staff and students to meet this expectation, the ministry is providing additional funding to school districts that will support the purchase of up to 1.5 million masks, enough for every public-school staff member and student to have at least two masks," B.C.'s education ministry says. 

When the province first released its back-to-school plan on July 29, it said non-medical masks were recommended when physical distancing wasn't possible, but said "no student is required to wear a non-medical mask if they do not tolerate it."

Since then, active COVID-19 cases in B.C. have steadily increased. Thousands of B.C. residents have signed petitions calling for a mandatory mask rule, while thousands more have called on the B.C. government to be more flexible about allowing students to continuing learning from home. 

Others have called for the start of school to be postponed to give more time for health and safety guidelines to be implemented. Last week, the education ministry did delay students' return to class by two days, giving extra time for staff and teacher orientations. 

While B.C.'s top doctor has repeatedly said other measures are more helpful to curbing the spread of COVID-19 – like keeping physical distance, staying home when sick and contact tracing – she did say last week that they could be helpful in places where keeping a safe distance isn't possible. 

"We also know that masks can interfere with the ability to learn, so I think there's a lot more that we need to understand," Dr. Bonnie Henry said days before the education announced its new regulations. 

Other safety measures that will be in place when students return to class on Sept. 10 include increased cleaning of high-contact surfaces, increased hand hygiene and some transparent barriers. Students will also be divided into learning groups, to reduce the number of people they come in contact with while at school.