Tuesday August 24, 2021 | VICTORIA, BC
by Mary P Brooke, B.Sc., Editor | Island Social Trends
Masking is back as part of personal protection and protecting others during the ongoing COVID pandemic. In schools, and in all workplaces and public spaces.
Today BC Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside and Anne Kang, Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Training together with BC Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, addressed various health and safety measures for K-12 schools and post-secondary institutions for 2021-2022.
Ventilation & masks in schools:
Whiteside says all K-12 school districts are reviewing ventilation in their schools; there are 1,500 schools in BC. She said that 44 of 60 school districts have upgraded their HVAC systems. Portable classrooms “have their own ventilation systems”, which — if that means windows that can be opened — might interestingly enough be even safer than closed-in classroom spaces in some cases.
The funding numbers mentioned today by Minister Whiteside were, first, that $87.5 million has been spent on ventilation (which she called federal and provincial), then added that $77.5 million has been spent by the BC Ministry of Education toward ventilation in past year. That means the federal one-time contribution was $10 million. Education is a provincial responsibility.
The biggest news for families and communities is that the wearing of non-medical masks will be required for all students in Grades 4 to 12 and all other persons in the schools, in all public and private schools in BC when classes resume after September 7, 2021. Children in Kindergarten to Grade 3 may optionally wear a mask, but mask-wearing even for that age group will be “encouraged”.
In K-12 schools there will be rapid response teams, and regional “supplementation” measures can be done “as needed”, said Whiteside. That would be in the case of any “outbreaks or rising numbers of infections”.
Dr Henry feels that students are “looking forward to full-time in-person learning” and obviously hopes for cooperation across the board with all the new measures.
All BC education regulations apply to both public and private schools.
Post-secondary vaccination & masks:
“This has been a long road. There is still a need for certain measures to be taken,” said Dr Henry today, as she continues to remind British Columbians that COVID public health measures are being adapted as the situation continues to evolve. The pandemic was first declared in BC on March 17, 2020.
There is some flexibility and room for the employer-employee relationship to kick in at university and college campuses with regard to whether vaccination of staff and faculty is mandatory. it was explained in today’s press conference. That ultimately means that working conditions will vary depending on the institution.
Dr Henry was quick to say that the new Proof of Vaccination card (which comes into effect September 13 and requires people to have two shots of COVID-vaccine by October 17, in time to get a completed card by October 24), takes care of managing the vaccination coverage among students.
Masks will be required by everyone on campus in shared spaces like classrooms and labs, as well as social spaces.
Advanced Education and Skills Training Minister Kang said that students will want to be vaccinated in order to take part in a full campus life including students housing, going to pubs, meetings, concerts and sports events. She noted that universities “may go beyond” what is stipulated by BC Health.
Step 4 on pause:
Yesterday it was made clear by Dr Henry that the transition to Step 4 in the BC Recovery Plan is on pause. It was originally set to take place ‘no earlier than September 7’. The main criteria for moving along to each of Steps 1 to 4 was a first-dose level of vaccination being over 70% (plus other factors).
That never seemed quite adequate (as it’s shown by science that two doses are required for full vaccination), and indeed the population has not fully cooperated with maintaining all the other health protocols that would have potentially made Step 4 possible.
But with summer warm weather fueling the desire for travel, vacations, and socializing — and the natural inclination for young adults to be socially active — Step 4 was possibly always a very remote possibility.
Proof of COVID vaccination starts Sept 13 (August 23, 2021)
Delta-surge fourth wave pushes Dr Henry to put Step 4 on pause (August 21, 2021)