VANCOUVER -- With British Columbia planning to return most students to in-classroom learning on a full-time basis this September, minimizing the spread of COVID-19 will be a top priority.

Students, teachers and staff will be organized into consistent "learning groups" to reduce the number of people coming into contact with one another, the provincial Ministry of Education announced Wednesday.

In elementary and middle schools, those groups will include a maximum of 60 people, while the maximum at secondary schools will be 120. The people in these groups will remain together throughout the school year and "will primarily interact only with each other," according to provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.

Henry said organizing schools into these learning groups will help to minimize the transmission of COVID-19 in the event of an outbreak.

That doesn't necessarily mean that an entire group will be sent home if one member tests positive, however.

Asked what will happen if a student or teacher is infected, Henry said the next steps will depend on the public health investigation of that individual.

"It depends on where the source of infection was, whether it was in the school setting or not," the provincial health officer said at a news conference Wednesday. "The worst-case scenario would be: that entire cohort would be asked to self-isolate and be monitored and tested. That would be, sort of, the extent of it, and why we've gone to this cohort system, because that's how we could manage it effectively."

But not every confirmed case of the coronavirus would be a worst-case scenario, in the same way that not every public exposure to COVID-19 is considered an outbreak, Henry said.

"If it happens, as we've seen in other settings, where the exposure event was outside of the school setting, then that individual may be removed from the setting, but if they weren't sick in the school, then it may not have an impact on the other people in the cohort," she said.

The province's plan also requires all students and school staff to assess themselves daily for COVID-19 symptoms and stay home if they develop even mild ones.

In addition to the self-assessment, which parents and teachers will help younger students to do, schools will be limiting the number of visitors who will be allowed to enter school buildings, Henry said.

"There will be a screening process every day for everybody who's going into the school system," she said.