The BC Teachers’ Federation is calling for a mandatory mask policy in elementary school classes following the release of data from WorkSafeBC.
New data published by WorkSafeBC shows that, as of March 11, 80 occupational COVID-19 infection claims had been approved for K–7 teachers, compared to 25 for those teaching Grades 8 to 12.
The WorkSafeBC data does not distinguish where the teacher contracted the virus.
“The discrepancy in infection rates truly underscores the importance of mask-wearing in classrooms,” BCTF President Teri Mooring said.
“Elementary schools aren’t subject to any mask mandates for students, unlike our secondary schools. The lack of transparent data about transmission in schools means we can only guess that the lack of masks is leading to more infections among elementary teachers.”
The province enhanced its school mask policy in February. Students must wear masks in middle and secondary school classrooms but not when they are seated at their desk. Elementary school students are not required to wear masks in the classroom.
Provincial data shows school transmission is low and has argued cases only spread when safety policies are not followed.
According to the WorkSafeBC data, 89 per cent of elementary school teachers’ COVID-19 claims have been allowed compared to an approval rate of 74 per among registered nurses and registered psychiatric nurses, and 71 per cent for all occupations.
Claims are accepted when the evidence is sufficient to establish the worker has COVID-19 and the risk in the workplace was significantly higher than the ordinary risk of exposure.
In the two weeks since the WorkSafeBC data was last updated, an additional 31 claims for occupational COVID-19 infection were filed by workers in a public school district setting, an increase of nearly 15 per cent.
“The public health officer and government seem to be holding firm with their current mask mandates, so while we continue to advocate for stronger measures, we also need to rely on parents to talk to their children about the importance of wearing a mask for everybody’s safety,” Mooring said.
Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside said she has yet to review the WorkSafeBC data.
Whiteside said the province’s health and safety working group will see if any changes are needed based on the data review.
“We work with school districts on the ground to ensure our schools are as safe as they possibly can be,” Whiteside said.