British Columbia is requiring all students from kindergarten to Grade 12 to wear a mask while in school.
After increasing public pressure and a rise in COVID-19 cases among children, the provincial government is updating its K-12 education health and safety guidelines to require masks for kindergarten to Grade 3 students.
“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,” Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside said.
Beginning Monday, 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.
Currently, schools in the province are mandated to have students in Grades 4 to 12, as well as all adults, wear face coverings.
“This pandemic continues to evolve and so do we,” provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said.
“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.”
The announcement comes after school boards in Vancouver, Surrey and Burnaby are set to expand the mask mandate on Monday to include all students from K-12.
The head of the BC Teachers’ Federation said she is happy to see an expanded mask mandate in B.C. schools but is disappointed that individual school boards had to act on their own.
“It’s really disappointing that those school boards had to do that,” BCTF president Teri Mooring said. “There should have been a K-to-12 mask mandate in place at the beginning of the school year.”
“When things aren’t mandated provincially, it’s really hit and miss as to how it actually plays out in the field.”
Mooring also said she was glad that public health officials will begin to release a monthly report on the impacts of COVID-19 on school-aged children.
“We have heard from both families and teachers about concerns they don’t have enough information about what’s happening at their child’s school in order to make informed decisions,” she said.
On Tuesday, Henry was asked why she would not expand the mask mandate, leaving it up to local school boards to do so. The province’s top doctor has been reluctant to expand the mask mandate and pointed to data that shows transmission is higher among those aged nine to 11 than ages five to eight. Both of those age groups cannot be vaccinated, but the nine-to-11 group is currently required to wear masks.
Even so, Henry did not dismiss the idea of eventually changing the mandate.
“We know that the things that we need to have in place in schools to prevent transmission in the school setting are myriad,” Henry said.
“I have tasked our school team to look at every individual situation and particularly look at those communities where we have higher transmission rates and lower vaccination rates to see what we need to do in the province to make sure we can make schools continue to operate safely.”
Provincial data modelling provided by B.C. health officials on Tuesday showed COVID-19 cases continue to rise among school-aged children following the return to classrooms in September.
The data showed as of mid-September, children aged five to eight years old and those aged nine to 11 lead the way for transmission of the virus.
WATCH: After increasing public pressure and a rise in COVID-19 cases among children, the province announced new health measures on Monday. Jules Knox reports.
As of this week, around 30 out of 100,000 children aged nine to 11 in B.C. are getting COVID-19, and 22 out of 100,000 children aged five to eight are getting the virus. The next highest age group is 18-to-39-year-olds, at a rate of 15 out of every 100,000.
The province did not provide similar data for those four years old and younger.