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Central Okanagan Teachers’ Association pleased with new mask policy, but says more measures needed

Masks will now have to be worn inside classrooms in all B.C. middle and secondary schools. Don MItchell / Global News

The provincial government has strengthened its mask policy at B.C. schools.

On Thursday, the Ministry of Education announced that all students in middle and secondary schools and all staff from Kindergarten to Grade 12 must wear non-medical masks inside classrooms.

Previously, students and staff were only mandated to wear masks in shared spaces such as hallways.

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“We want students, their families, and staff to feel confident with the safety measures in place – that’s why we are making these updates,” said Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside

“To make sure schools continue to be as safe as possible for students and staff as the pandemic evolves, we have worked with provincial health and our partners on a continuous review of the guidelines, adapting and responding when needed.”

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There are some exceptions to the new rules, including not having to wear a mask when a student is at a desk or work station or if there are barriers in place.

The B.C. Teachers Federation (BCTF) has been calling on masks in classrooms to be mandated for months.

“It’s long overdue. I’m not quite sure why it took so long to announce it, but we are very pleased,” said Susan Bauhart, president of the Central Okanagan Teachers’ Association (COTA).

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While Bauhart said Thursday’s announcement is great news, she says it doesn’t go far enough in creating the safest environment possible.

“This is a great start and we thank the ministry and Bonnie Henry for it, but … classroom density or classrooms are full of bodies, making social distancing absolutely impossible,” she said.

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Dr. Bonnie Henry reiterated Thursday that there has been very little transmission of the COVID-19 virus within schools and particularly within classrooms.

In addition to reducing class density, Bauhart said ventilation systems in many districts still need to be upgraded and contact tracing needs to be improved.

“Contact tracing has been haphazard,” said Bauhart. “There are lots of reported holes in that system and so that needs to be addressed.”

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