Tuesday January 4, 2022 | VICTORIA, BC [Last update: 10 pm January 5, 2022]
by Mary P Brooke, B.Sc. | Island Social Trends
Teachers want to feel as safe as possible on the job in schools. As does everyone in their job during the pandemic.
Today BC Teachers Federation (BCTF) president Teri Mooring told Island Social Trends that the use of N95 masks should be supported for use by all teachers in BC schools (i.e. mandated by public health and presumably funded by the Ministry of Education), and that teachers should be prioritized for receiving COVID booster shots (third doses).
In her media session today, Provincial Health Officer Dr Bonnie Henry said that N95 masks are not really necessary in a low-risk environment like schools. Schools have been generally well-managed to date, and generally have not been sites of major COVID spread so far. But with the highly transmissible Omicron variant, teachers prefer to be prudent.
While Dr Henry says almost everyone can expect to be exposed to the Omicron variant (or COVID in any form) at some point, from an individual perspective any infection is one too many. Teachers are hoping to be as safe as possible for themselves (and their families), their students, and the families of their students.
Wearing the highest-possible mask quality in schools leads to a better chance of staving off some or many transmissions of the airborne Omicron. All COVID is airborne, but Omicron has mutated to replicating primarily in the nasal and upper respiratory passages, and is therefore an infection is more easily acquired and possibly more readily spread.
In the past 24 hours, 2,542 new cases of COVID-19 have been reported in BC (1,458 in Fraser Health, 360 in Island Health, 329 in Vancouver Coastal, 270 in Interior, and 125 in Northern).
One teacher posted on Twitter today (@RedShirtTeacher): “I’m fairly confident wearing N95s over the past year-and-a-half is one of the only things keeping me from catching COVID.”
As for the prioritization of teachers for boosters (third doses) of the COVID mRNA vaccines in BC, today Dr Henry reiterated that all adults (in fact anyone over age 12 years) can receive a booster after six months (specifically 182 days). Invitations are going out and appointments are being booked. She points out that last year teachers were eventually prioritized for vaccination through the overall BC immunization program, and she’s sticking to her decision about a six-month interval being the best for achieving the best possible immunity especially for the long term.
Therefore, many if not most teachers will be able to make their booster appointment in the next few weeks or next two months. But that still does not fully address the concerns of teachers in their direct-contact, close-environment in classrooms and schools in these next few weeks of the Omicron wave.
If teachers were to be prioritized now (i.e. front of the line for booster shots) that would presumably have a positive ripple effect in the all-important school system when it’s needed most. Yes, there is a period of time for an immune response to the booster, but starting now would seem prudent.
Last week (December 29) school districts were advised by Dr Henry to develop ‘continuity plans’, given her expectation that many workplaces will be cut to one-third of employees as the Omicron wave fully hits. In the case of schools, it’s not just the teachers and staff could see a considerable level of illness and have to stay home, but many students will probably also come down with at least mild cases of COVID infection. That will require continuity plans with regard to curriculum, as well.
Ventilation in schools has only been improved and/or includes HEPA-filtration in about 50 percent of schools during the pandemic, said Mooring, based on data from the BC Government.
BCTF has done their own analysis on the effectiveness of current ventilation. Some schools have a good setup, some with partial effectiveness, and some with none. In winter, it’s not really possible to have windows wide open for adequate ventilation support, she notes.
Island Social Trends asked the Ministry of Education as to funding for N95s in classrooms, and the Ministry of Health as to the budget-realities of using N95s (i.e. can one mask be worn all day, how much inventory will be needed)?
“Schools continue to make three-layer masks available for students and staff, and the Ministry of Education will continue to work with the sector to implement Provincial Health Officer orders regarding masks,” it was stated by the Ministry of Education within a statement issued to Island Social Trends on January 5.
“While N95 respirators are typically single use and disposable, in the community setting they may be reused until visibly dirty, damp or damaged. Therefore, the lifespan will depend on its use, maintenance and care,” it was stated by the Ministry of Health within a statement issued to Island Social Trends on January 5.
West shore / SD62:
Locally in the west shore, SD62 Superintendent Scott Stinson says, naturally, that “if we were directed to provide N95 masks we would comply with that direction regardless of funding decisions”.
Stinson says that “consistent with requests by the BCTF, our local has also requested N95 masks be made available”.
BCTF says that 96% of their membership is ‘fully vaccinated’ (two doses). In that light, SD62 did not proceed with a vaccine mandate for teachers and staff in their employ. But in December SD62 did announce the requirement for any newly hired staff to be fully vaccinated.
Remote learning during pandemic:
Today BCTF president Teri Mooring said that during the Omicron wave “there may come a time where it’s just less disruptive to have everyone learning remotely or online”.
“There will be numerous schools closing because of lack of staffing,” she said, given the expected transmissibility of the Omicron-variant virus.
“The Province should be planning for the possibility of everyone going online again,” said Mooring in an interview with Island Social Trends today, while still articulating the importance of in-class learning for higher-quality results. Today Dr Henry said in-class learning is good for emotional and social well-being as well as intellectual learning.
Though she pointed out that children of essential workers and those with disabilities will still need care as provided by the school system (BC already took that approach even in the first wave of COVID in April-May 2020, with schools kept open for that target group of children).
In SD62 last year, families who needed appropriate technology for students to learn from home were provided with laptops and Internet access support.
COVID rolls into 2022: tough couple of weeks ahead (January 4, 2022)
Education Minister offers assurances on New Year’s Day (January 1, 2022)
K-12 phased return in Jan 2022 due to Omicron (December 29, 2021)
High case numbers Dec 29 as Omicron spreads (December 29, 2021)
SD62 interrupts winter break with ‘new hires’ vaccine mandate message (December 21, 2021)
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