The new COVID rules for schools sound bold on the surface: face coverings are now mandatory for students and staff across the Skeena and the province. “Masks must be worn in all indoor areas,” the B.C. government announced this week.
That should be welcome news to anyone who signed a recent petition calling for mask-wearing in the classroom, as well as the large majority (71%) of Skeena Strong readers who voted “yes” to mandatory masks in our recent poll.
But the rules contain several key exceptions, which critics say will reduce their effectiveness at preventing the spread of COVID. First off, masks are only mandatory for students in middle and high school; for elementary students they are still voluntary.
This has some parents concerned that children in lower grades won’t “get that added layer of protection,” according to the Vancouver Sun. Other parents argue that elementary students would have a hard time communicating and learning if they have to wear masks, however.
Older students now have to wear masks as they move inside school buildings, but they can take the mask off when they sit down at their desks. “[Students] sit at tables, they sit shoulder-to-shoulder at desks in rooms that are quite crowded. So it doesn’t make a lot of sense to us that there is no requirement to wear a mask when students are sitting at desks,” B.C. Teachers’ Federation president Teri Mooring told CTV News.
Some B.C. high school students agree. “In my science class we sit very close to one another, so if someone was sitting beside me without a mask I wouldn’t feel safe,” Grade 12 student Callen Ashcroft said.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry defended the exception, saying it was similar to the rules for offices and restaurants. “The same approach now applies to our schools. When students and educators are seated at their workstations, they may remove their masks,” she explained.
Commenters on BC School COVID Tracker, a Facebook group that reports new coronavirus exposures across the province, are wondering what the new policy on masks will actually achieve. “The rules are not different, just the wording to make it look like there is a change,” wrote Jennifer-Juniper Angeli.
What do you think? Comment on the Skeena Strong Facebook.