The B.C. Teachers’ Federation is calling on B.C. to expand the mask mandate down to kindergarten students in Fraser Health as COVID cases continue to surge in B.C.
Daily cases in the province have sat near or even above 1,000 in recent weeks, and variants of concern have been on the rise. While B.C. does not release numbers for how much COVID is spread at schools, cases among children under the age of 15 have reached their highest rate since the pandemic began. Cases among teens aged 15 to 19 are also on the rise, with cases the week of March 21-27 rising from 86 to 138 per 100,000.
The presidents of local teachers’ unions in Fraser Health are calling for the mask mandate to be extended all the way down to kindergarten students. Currently, the school mask mandate only targets students in Grade 4 and up, while face coverings remain “encouraged” for the bottom four grades.
“Primary teachers’ school days include close contact with their young students who may not understand the reasons behind why they should limit physical contact,” the request reads. “In other community interactions, children as young as two must wear a mask, so this should not be a problem for five-to eight-year-olds to do the same while attending school.”
Some provinces have already made masks mandatory for even the youngest students; in Quebec, all students must wear masks in the province’s hardest hit “red zones.”
While teachers in Surrey, the province’s highest-risk community, have been vaccinated, the overall frontline workers vaccination program remains on pause following the suspension of the AstraZeneca vaccine for people under the age of 55. While B.C. officials have said the one-shot Johnson and Johnson vaccine could fill that gap when shipments arrive at the end of the month.
“We hope the rest of our Fraser Health region teachers will be on track to receive full vaccination as soon as possible,” the presidents said.
Another request echoed the words of BCTF president Teri Mooring earlier this week when she called for more clarity on the K-12 pandemic framework. The framework has five stages and all of B.C. has been in stage 2, which involves in-class schooling with learning groups, since the start of the school year. Stage 1 would be a full return to normal while Stage 5 is full scale remote learning.
Fraser Health area presidents asked for a return to Stage 3, which would involve a blend of online and in-person classes.
“Timing is of the essence for this action, as secondary schools will change learning groups in a few weeks and hundreds of thousands of kids will be switching cohorts,” the presidents said. :This poses a substantial increased risk for transmission in schools. The quarter turn around is an opportune moment to implement a phase change to keep our students, their families and staff safe.”
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