Friday October 1, 2021 | VICTORIA, BC
by Mary P Brooke, B.Sc., Editor | Island Social Trends
After watching the Delta variant wreck havoc on BC’s previously somewhat-contained COVID pandemic experience, there is finally a mask mandate for everyone in BC schools — students K-12, teachers, staff and visitors.
Today it seemed to come as a lately-realized conclusion that masks might help in schools for all children. The mask mandate was announced today as applying to Kindergarten through Grade 3, in addition to Grades 4 to 12 as already in place for the 2021-2022 school year.
Bowing to public pressure (notably parents and teachers but also media and the general public), Provincial Health Officer Dr Bonnie Henry today announced the inclusion of K-3 in the BC schools mandate. She cited the high transmissibility of the Delta variant as the main reason, but indicated that reliance on the effectiveness of COVID vaccines had been her approach.
As well, she seems to have been tip-toeing around imposing masks on such young children, remarking on emotional-social impacts (and again referred to masks as “just one layer of protection”, as if to say they’re not all that effective). However, given how intense and deadly the COVID viral infection can be, masks explained in that context would have common-sense buy-in from parents and children.
Indeed, it’s been mostly parental pressure — to protect their children — that has driven the eventual turnout by BC’s top doctor. The BC Teachers Federation (BCTF) has also been vocal on the matter.
Education Minister notes timeline:
Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside — also taking part in today’s media call, mentioned the social-emotional aspects of learning. She opened her remarks by noting it’s now “a month into the new school year”, which only served to highlight how long it’s taken to bring in masks for young children.
Whiteside parroted Dr Henry in saying that the COVID impact in schools is a “reflection of what is happening in the surrounding community”.
The new mask mandate will be enforced starting Monday October 4.
Vaccination coming for age 5 to 11:
Vaccines for kids age 5 to 11 years of age are expected by the end of October, or in November, said Dr Henry today. Kids without masks and unvaccinated have been sitting ducks for COVID infection by being in the classrooms in BC schools.
The dosage for that age group will be 10 mcg of the antigen, compared to 30 mcg in the standard dose for adults (which has also been used for teens age 12+), said Dr Henry today. That’s a change from the ‘half-dose’ reference she made earlier this week.
The new vaccination product from Pfizer for kids age 5 to 11 years will be fridge-stable, which is “great for us, it’s easier to distribute”, said Dr Henry today.
Public health across Canada must wait for Health Canada to review the manufacturer’s data and the safety of the manufacturing process.
Here is today’s full news release, issued jointly from the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Health, after the live media session:
Expanded health, safety measures for K-12 students:
“Government is updating its K-12 education health and safety guidelines to require masks for kindergarten to Grade 3 students.
“In-person learning is crucial for the social and educational well-being of students. The health and safety guidelines in our schools were developed under the guidance and direction of the Public Health Office (PHO) and BC Centre for Disease Control to allow children to safely attend school on a full-time, in-person basis,” said Jennifer Whiteside, Minister of Education. “We know there is a high level of concern among some parents, students, teachers and boards of education, especially in regions of B.C. where transmission rates are higher. We are listening to the concerns of people and, on the advice of the provincial health officer, taking further action so that families, students and staff feel secure.”
Beginning Monday, Oct. 4, 2021, all students in B.C. schools will be required to wear a mask when inside a school building, including while at their desks and on buses. This builds on the existing guidelines that currently apply to all students in grades 4 to 12.
“This pandemic continues to evolve and so do we,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer. “We need to make changes to fit the situation as it’s arising. We know the COVID-19 virus is being transmitted more rapidly, particularly to those who don’t have the protection that vaccination offers. This extra measure adds another layer of protection as we navigate this phase of the pandemic.”
Beginning this month, the PHO will release a new monthly report that will inform British Columbians about the virus and how it effects school-aged children.
As announced in August, regional medical health officers (MHOs) may recommend additional health and safety measures in response to local and regional conditions. MHOs will continue to work with school districts to recommend any additional regional measures as required.
These measures build on the existing K-12 health and safety guidelines, which were developed in consultation with all education partners. The guidelines include daily health checks, hand washing, staying home when sick and improved ventilation systems. The guidelines also contain strategies for schools to help create space between people, including staggered recess, lunch breaks and class transition times, managing the flow of people in common areas, and using available space to spread people out.
Government will continue to be responsive to changes in the pandemic and will continue working with parents, teachers, school districts, First Nations rights-holders and all education partners to make sure schools are safe for students, teachers, and staff.”
Oct 1 COVID school update likely about K-3 mask mandate (before the press conference, October 1, 2021)
Potential COVID exposures in Island schools – currently 18 schools listed (September 30, 2021)
Vaccines effective for at least 4 months, boosters very likely to come (September 29, 2021)
SD62 dealing with COVID in schools as kids 5-11 remain unvaccinated (September 28, 2021)
BCTF Fall 2021: wants better protections & return-to-school caution (September 6, 2021)