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Richmond student's petition for masks aligns with new federal PPE guidelines for schools

FILE - Packages of face masks on April 29, 2020. CITYNEWS/Tony Fera

A Richmond high school student is petitioning for mandatory masks in class

New federal guidelines suggest masks for all able kids over 10 years old

Richmond student doesn’t want to make compromised family sick, petitioning for PPE in schools

RICHMOND (NEWS 1130) — With only weeks to go before students and teachers are back inside classrooms, a Richmond high schooler says he can’t understand the province’s policy on face coverings and has started a petition to change it.

Victor Lam says he has a family member who is immunocompromised and knows of other students who are in the same position who don’t want to bring COVID-19 into their homes.

“The recent announcement by the provincial government to open schools has been very surprising … A concern that many of my peers and I have is the lack of social distancing and having no face covering requirement for students and teachers,” he tells NEWS 1130, also noting the increase in COVID-19 cases.

“The government has only imposed measures such as learning cohorts of 60 and 120, without any social distancing or mask requirement whatsoever. Public Health Ontario has previously mentioned in a report that children of all ages appear to be susceptible to the virus,” the online petition reads.

Ontario and Alberta have made plans to include mandatory face coverings for students who are physically able to wear them and who are more than 10 years old. New federal guidelines for grade school environments suggest kids and youth over 10 should be wearing masks indoors and when distancing isn’t possible.

“Based on the current evidence of COVID-19 transmission, NMMs [non-medical masks] are recommended in children/youth over 10 years,” say the federal guidelines.

“When possible, schools should consider a policy that recommends NMM use according to grade level or class grouping. This measure should be based on a setting-specific risk assessment that includes the following factors: local epidemiology of COVID-19 including evidence of community transmission, the characteristics of the individual (for example, age, maturity, physical ability, comprehension), the characteristics of the setting, the nature of the activities, risk tolerance, and the potential of the setting to implement risk mitigation measures.”

The federal guidelines also say policies in schools should stick to provincial health authority advice for non-medical mask use in all indoor spaces or where distancing isn’t possible, and not just in common areas.

Lam says he and his peers can’t understand why the messaging has been mixed when it comes to the efficacy of masks in school settings.

“Both Dr. Bonnie Henry and the CDC have previously mentioned that non-medical masks or face coverings should be used in situations where physical distancing is impossible. To protect the safety of all students and teachers, face coverings should be mandatory for all in schools,” his change.org petition reads.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization’s director-general says the only way to safely reopen schools is with comprehensive testing, contact tracing and robust PPE policies.

“We all want to see schools safely reopened but we also need to ensure that students, staff and faculty are safe. The foundation for this is adequate control of transmission at the community,” says Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus