There is potential that a person infected with a COVID-19 variant was at Garibaldi secondary, prompting calls from teachers for better health and safety rules. (Neil Corbett/The News)

There is potential that a person infected with a COVID-19 variant was at Garibaldi secondary, prompting calls from teachers for better health and safety rules. (Neil Corbett/The News)

BCTF renews call for mandatory masks in schools as new COVID variants spread

Link to new variant at Maple Ridge school brings call for stronger mask mandate

With the possibility of a COVID-19 variant in a Maple Ridge high school, the BCTF is saying schools need a stronger mask mandate.

The union would like masks to be mandatory everywhere in schools, for children aged 10 and up.

“That would be a reasonable response to this,” said Maple Ridge Teachers’ Association president Trevor Takasaki. “It would alleviate some people’s anxiety.”

A person at Garibaldi secondary who tested positive for the virus is a close contact of another case, which was identified as one of the new variants. The variants, which originate from the UK and South Africa, are more easily transmissible.

Early Tuesday, it was not yet known whether the variant had arrived at the Maple Ridge school.

On Monday, some 80 students and teachers from Garibaldi secondary were tested at the Ridge Meadow UPCC COVID-19 Assessment Centre, which cancelled all other appointments for the day.

Takasaki appreciated Fraser Health’s response to prioritize testing for the school students and staff, saying “that was prudent, in my mind.”

READ ALSO: Case of COVID-19 at Maple Ridge high school may be new variant

On Monday, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the province is revising and updating its COVID-19 guidance, saying there “will be more about that” this week.

“I do think it’s important to enforce the mask wearing that we have in the school setting, and particularly in light of the variants that we are seeing in our community,” said Henry.

B.C. Teachers’ Federation president Teri Mooring said Monday that teachers are indeed enforcing the current mask rules, but they are not strong enough, because students are only required to wear masks in hallways, on buses and in common areas.

However, in a classroom – within their cohort of 60-120 people – students cannot be told to wear masks.

BCTF also says there is not room in many classes for physical distancing.

Mooring said the mask mandate in B.C. is weaker than that of other provinces.

READ ALSO: Since March, 5,030 travellers have quarantined in Canadian hotels – 717 in B.C.

The Education Ministry is supposed to update health and safety guidelines, but Mooring said discussions have been happening since November, and educators are frustrated by delays.

It is a longstanding issue for the union. The BCTF issued a press release on Oct. 6 saying the majority of teachers polled called health and safety measures in schools inadequate.


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