COVID measures likely to stay relaxed for Okanagan school start despite Omicron variant risk

Schools in B.C. will likely re-open to with the current relaxed COVID rules. Globe and Mail via The Canadian Press

Thousands of B.C students are slated to go back to school in two and a half weeks. And when they do, COVID-related safety measures will likely stay relaxed.

“We’re excited to be back to school,” said Kevin Kaardal, superintendent of Central Okanagan Public Schools.

The start of a new school year comes at a time when the highly transmissible Omicron variant of COVID-19 continues to circulate.

It has prompted discussions around safety protocols.

“We’re waiting for any new guidance from the ministry,” Kaardal told Global News. “We expect it imminently.”

However, safety measures, such as mask mandates, cohort groups and sporting restrictions, that students and staff have become accustomed to for much of the last two schools years are not expected to make a return,  at least not at this point.

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“Masking is optional and you know, sports are back in, so we’re pretty much operating as per normal,” Kaardal said. “We’re encouraging hand-washing of course. If you’re sick, please stay home.”

Click to play video: 'B.C. government preparing back to school pandemic plan'
B.C. government preparing back to school pandemic plan

While the Safe Schools Coalition of B.C. continues to call for mandatory masks when school resumes, parents Global News spoke with at a Kelowna park Wednesday afternoon were largely against it.

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“I hope they don’t have masks,” said Kaylee Sawatzky. “For my daughter specifically, she touches her face so much that it will not decrease her risk at all.”

“No mask mandate, no,” said Clare Marriott. “I just feel it’s a social barrier for them.”

“I would not like that, I think kids need to see facial expressions,” said Sarah Rempel.

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Older students at post secondary institutions, such as Okanagan College, are also starting a new year with more relaxed rules but those at the helm are ready to implement stricter measures if warranted.

“We’re aware, we’re very attentive around what’s going on but we’ve also learned that we can react, we can respond,” said Okanagan College president Neil Fassina. “We’ve done it a couple of times already and really, as things change, we’re dynamic … we’ll make sure that we’re responding as needed.”

While the vast majority of Canadian post secondary institutions have relaxed their COVID restriction, Western University in Ontario is bucking the trend.

The London-based institution announced Monday it will require students to wear masks in classrooms and be fully vaccinated to attend campus.

“I think what Western is doing is going to likely be followed by other institutions at some level or variation,” Fassina said. “But I think as long we’re staying connected to our public health office, I think we’re going to be pretty rock-and-roll.”

In an email to Global News, spokesperson for the University of British Columbia (UBC) Matthew Ramsey said the university is monitoring the situation and will advise the community of any changes to current mask requirements in the coming days.

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For most B.C. students, schools starts on Sept. 6.

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

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