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B.C. middle and high school students, all staff now required to wear masks in classrooms

The new guidelines don't apply to elementary school students; that decision up to parents.
The provincial government has mandated masks in classrooms.

UPDATE: 11:20 a.m.

The updated mask rules in B.C. classrooms announced Thursday morning come five months after schools were reopened last September.

Minister of Education Jennifer Whiteside said the government has been “learning about the behaviour of the virus and learning about what's working and what hasn't been working in our schools.”

The new rules will require students in middle and secondary schools and all K-12 staff to wear non-medical masks in all indoor settings in school, except for when seated at a desk or work station, when there are physical barriers up or during eating or drinking. Prior to the changes, students were not required to wear masks when in their classrooms with their own “learning group.”

Despite the change, both Whiteside and Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry continued to say schools are “low-risk settings” for the transmission of the virus.

“The risk of transmission with the measures we have in place in our classrooms is very low,” Dr. Henry said, noting that a recent case of the U.K. variant at Maple Ridge's Garibaldi Secondary did not spread to anyone else in the person's class.

The newly updated guidelines in schools also provide new guidance on physical education.

“What we have recognized is that things that were being held outside safely, when they moved into the gym, people were not necessarily taking extra provisions to ensure greater space, mask-wearing in certain conditions," Dr. Henry said. "So yes there is some more detailed guidance about how to safely have PE classes without having the intense physical activity that you can do outside more safely than inside."

Thursday, Whiteside also announced the second instalment of $121.2 million in federal funding will be provided to B.C. schools to help manage COVID-19, through things like hiring additional staff, and upgrading ventilation systems.

Of this new funding, $900,000 will go to set up a “rapid response team” in each health authority, which will be deployed at significant exposure events to help review situations and make recommendations.

Whiteside said about 90 per cent of B.C. students are currently attending some sort of in-class learning across the province.

ORIGINAL: 10:15 a.m.

British Columbian students in middle and secondary schools and all K-12 staff are now required to wear non-medical masks while in class, with some exceptions.

Thursday morning, B.C.'s Minister of Education Jennifer Whiteside announced the change to the province's education guidelines. While masks were previously required for students and staff in all "uncontrolled" indoor areas like hallways, the new rules require those in class to wear masks as well, even when they're with their own "learning groups."

But the new mask rules allow students and staff to take off their masks when seated at their desks or work stations, when there are additional physical barriers in place, or when people are eating and drinking.

Dr. Bonnie Henry said the updated rules align with the current rules in offices and restaurants.

Whiteside said the new rules will mean students will now need to wear masks when entering and leaving their classroom, during group work and when they get up from their desks to get a drink of water or walk around their class.

The new guidelines don't apply to elementary school students, and wearing a mask in those classrooms continues to be a choice for those younger students and their parents.

Whiteside said they also now recommend any high-intensity physical activity should be done outside when possible, and all shared equipment must be thoroughly cleaned between use.

Dr. Henry said schools continue to be a "low-risk setting," and they've seen "very little" spread of the virus within schools in the province.

Whiteside also announced the province will be using an additional $121.2 million in federal funding to help schools manage the enhanced safety measures and hire additional staff.

More to come.