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B.C.'s back-to-school plan will see return of mask mandate

Full-time, in-class learning resumes Sept. 7.
All staff in all grades (K-12) will be required to wear a non-medical mask starting Sept. 7.

Students across the board in B.C., those attending public and private K-12 schools and post secondary institutions will all return to in-class learning next month, despite the uptick in COVID-19 cases.

During a news briefing Tuesday morning, Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside said there will be a requirement for all staff and students in Grade 4 and up to wear masks within the school setting, including in both classrooms and while taking school transportation.

Masks will be strongly recommended for students in Kindergarten to Grade 3.

During the news conference, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said while many younger children under the age of 12 have become used to wearing masks, she indicated the best way to protect those who are not able to get immunized is for adults around those children to get vaccinated themselves.

The province is also not mandating school staff get vaccinated, although Henry said employees are being encouraged to get their shot.

She said there has been an uptick in vaccinations among those working within the school system, adding school transmission rates do tend to mirror those transmission rates within the community.

It was also announced Tuesday that proof of vaccination will be required for some activities on post-secondary campuses.

"For campus life, the new provincial proof of vaccination requirement announced yesterday means people must be vaccinated in order to live in student housing, to go to a pub, to go to a gym, including varsity students, to attend an indoor club meeting like joining a choir," said Advanced Education Minister Anne Kang.

"That same proof of vaccination will also be required for activities that can be a big part of a student's life like indoors concerts and attending sports events."

Kang said colleges and universities will have the opportunity to adopt their own vaccine policies above and beyond what was announced Tuesday; however, they must work with public health in order to do so.

Henry also indicated those additional rules could not be imposed for students attending class.

"We know the in-classroom setting is not the risky setting, and it's important that we don't put barriers in place for people receiving education," said Henry.

"The risk really is in communal living settings where we have seen transmission, and that's why we are focused on the importance of immunization in those settings."

One exception is health sciences students because those students are required to do practicums and other training in health-care settings, including long-term care.

The public school system is also getting away from the cohorts, which were utilized throughout the 2020-21 school year.

Whiteside said with the introduction of vaccines, the province is not in the same position as it was at this time a year ago.

All British Columbians 12 years and older are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. As of this past week, 72 per cent of 12 to 17 year olds in B.C. have had their first dose and 57 per cent are fully vaccinated, Henry said.