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COVID-19: Interior Health adds regional safety measures at schools

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While B.C. loosens a number of school safety measures that were implemented last year to curb the spread of COVID-19, the Interior Health Authority is adding some extra measures at schools across the health region.

IHA announced Wednesday that it’s implementing three additional measures due to increased COVID activity locally.

The newly-announced regional measures include a limit of 50 people or two classes for indoor school assemblies.

Visitors entering schools are also being limited to those supporting activities that are of benefit to student learning and well-being, such as teacher candidates, immunizers and meal program volunteers.

Read more: COVID-19: Ontario lifts class size, distancing requirements in indoor post-secondary classrooms

IHA is also putting a cap on spectators watching school sports to 50 indoors and 100 outdoors.

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But provincially, public health officials have shifted away from other measures including student cohorts and strict physical distancing, which will no longer be required,

One of the other strict measures implemented last year that has now been loosened concerns cleaning.

The province has reduced daily cleaning at schools from twice a day to just once a day.

“That has changed,” said Susan Bauhart, the president of the Central Okanagan Teacher’s Association (COTA). “There’s only a requirement to clean the schools once a day.”

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In an email to Global News, the Ministry of Education defends that decision, stating: “We continue to take direction from the Provincial Health Officer, who has advised that the risk of transmission from surfaces is low, and that cleaning once per day is what is recommended as safe and effective.”

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Superintendent of Central Okanagan Public Schools Kevin Kaardal said that the district is following that directive.

“We are still electrostatic cleaning or disinfecting rooms once a day and we’re doing it after students are out so that when…students come into the school and teachers, they’re coming into our sterile environment,” Kaardal said.

Despite the loosening of those measures, Kaardal said schools are safe.

“I think we’re safer today then we’ve been at any time and that’s because of high uptake in vaccinations,” said Kaardal. “”we have a ways to go still in the central Okanagan particularly with our young people 12 to 17 I think we’re just over 60 per cent.”

Read more: COVID-19: Kelowna, B.C. pediatrician reassures parents ahead of new school year

Kaardal added that thousands of doses were also administered at two separate vaccine clinics for staff.

“We know how many employees we have and we know how many doses were given,” he said. “So we will have a high percentage of staff that are fully vaccinated.”

The mask mandate remains in place for all staff and students in Grade 4 and up.

“We will continue to have layered measures. I mean the most important things are if you’re sick stay home. If you are eligible, get vaccinated,” Kaardal said.

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“We have layered safety measures like masks for grades four and up and hand washing continues and we will continue to support those layered measures that have been so effective last year.”

But Bauhart said the B.C. Teachers Federation continues calling for masks to be mandatory at all grade levels.

“The BCTF has been very, very firm on they want to see a mask mandate across-the-board K to 12,” she said. “Many primary teachers last year talked to me about the situation in their classrooms.

“They were very successful in a lot of cases in promoting a culture of mask wearing… and kids bought into and it was very successful. I think they’ll continue with that.”

Public schools in B.C. resume classes on Tuesday, Sept. 7.

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