‘Substantial changes’ to COVID-19 protocols in schools unlikely, says Dix

Click to play video: 'B.C. government preparing back to school pandemic plan'
B.C. government preparing back to school pandemic plan
WATCH: The province is preparing for another pandemic return to school with students heading back to the classroom next month. As Richard Zussman reports, those working in the schools are hoping for more defined rules and mandates to help stop the spread of COVID-19 – Aug 23, 2022

With the start of a new school year just two weeks away, Health Minister Adrian Dix has said parents should not expect “significant or substantial changes” to pandemic protocols in classrooms.

The B.C. government is expected to release updated guidance this week on what health measures will be recommended or required in schools, if any.

Click to play video: 'Will masks be required this school year?'
Will masks be required this school year?

“I don’t think you’ll see significant changes to what we saw at the end of the school year, but you will see updated guidance documents,” Dix told Global News.

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“It’s important for everyone to be informed about where we are in the pandemic.”

In earlier waves of the pandemic, B.C. introduced cohorts, staggered start times and masking to classrooms. By last June, however, neither students nor staff were required to wear masks or distance while indoors.

All music, physical education, sports, clubs and activities had resumed, while handwashing, covering the mouth while coughing or sneezing, and staying home when sick were all highly recommended.

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Dix said the focus now is on vaccination, with doses for children under five having been made available this summer. Booster doses for kids between five and 11 were approved this month.

“The core of it is vaccination, but we want to continue to use the things that we’ve learned in this time, whether it’s handwashing, whether it’s caution, whether it’s respect for one another,” he said.

Click to play video: 'Health Canada approves COVID-19 booster shot for kids ages five to 11'
Health Canada approves COVID-19 booster shot for kids ages five to 11

To date, more than 377,000 doses of pediatric COVID-19 vaccine — Pfizer or Moderna — have been administered in the province. More than half of kids between five and 11 have had one dose.

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Jennifer Heighton, co-founder of the Safe Schools Coalition, said she’s concerned that B.C. doesn’t appear to be making a firm commitment to more stringent measures in classrooms.

“For safety, society doesn’t operate that way. We don’t just suggest that people put car seats in their cars for children under a certain age or weight, they have to,” she told Global News.

“We have rules for drinking and driving laws, those kinds of things, because recommendations don’t work.”

Heighton said she would like to see more HEPA filters installed in B.C. classrooms to improve air quality.

“Unfortunately with the situation with a lot of COVID spread happening, it doesn’t look like it would be a good idea for schools to open without universal mask protection,” she added.

In March, the provincial government announced $48.5 million would be spent on HVAC upgrades at 90 schools throughout the province in 2022 and 2023, on top of the $163.1 million spent on HVAC upgrades since the start of the pandemic. Hundreds of HEPA filtration units were previously deployed across several school districts with a focus on classrooms without mechanical ventilation systems.

Click to play video: 'Health Canada approves COVID-19 booster shot for kids ages five to 11'
Health Canada approves COVID-19 booster shot for kids ages five to 11

The BC Teachers’ Federation is also pushing for “the ventilation piece,” according to president Clint Johnston.

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“Carry that work on, upgrade those pieces that still need upgrading but also in the meantime, make sure that those HEPA filters are available to anyone who wants and needs them,” he said in an interview.

The union would also like to see N95 masks available in classrooms to anyone who wants them, even though it’s not required, along with a rigorous classroom cleaning regime.

“What we don’t want is a bunch of moves made to take things away. It’s an unknown — we’re going back to school … we want to be cautious,” he said.

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