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B.C. top doctor hints school changes could come as COVID variant concerns rise

Last Updated Feb 2, 2021 at 6:26 am PST

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry provide an update on COVID-19 on Nov. 16, 2020. (Courtesy Government of B.C./Flikr)

Dr. Bonnie Henry has hinted some changes could be coming in B.C. schools as concerns mount over COVID-19 variants

As dozens of Maple Ridge students are tested this week for COVID-19 variants, calls are growing for masks in classrooms

Provincial health officer says officials are looking into where COVID protocol improvements could be made in schools

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – There are more calls for mandated face-coverings in classrooms across B.C. as dozens of students in Maple Ridge are being tested this week for a COVID-19 variant.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has hinted that there may be some adjustments to how the virus is being handled in schools, but what those changes would entail remains to be seen.

Teachers have been asking for masks to be made mandatory, but Henry has repeatedly resisted that move.

However, now that it’s known a positive case at Garibaldi Secondary School in Maple Ridge was in contact with someone with a variant strain of the coronavirus, Henry said health officials were looking into where improvements could be made to the current plan.

“Masks are one part of it that reduce the risk of transmission and reduce the risk of widespread transmission in schools. Dr. Réka Gustafson has been working with the school team to look at where things are working and where things aren’t working, and there’ll be more information on that later this week,” she said.

“We want to make sure there’s no other spread in the schools. We know that transmission is very uncommon in our schools. I do think it’s important to enforce the mask wearing that we have in the school setting, particularly in light of variants that we’re seeing in our community,” Henry added.

Currently, students are only required to wear masks in traffic areas, such as hallways and buses. They are required for all staff in K-12 and all students in middle and secondary schools.

Masks are also supposed to be worn anytime a student is outside of their classroom or learning group and can’t safely distance from others.

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Fraser Health has stepped in to test nearly 80 people at the Maple Ridge high school, as well as close contacts of the person infected with COVID-19, who is a close contact of another individual diagnosed with a more contagious strain.

That has spurred plenty of reaction online, with more calls for a mask mandate in B.C. schools.

“This makes me even more outraged at the lack of mask mandate. These variants could already be taking advantage in our schools,” one person writes.

Others say they’ll keep their children home out of concern, another Facebook user pointing to the lack of mandate for face coverings.

In B.C., there are currently 14 cases of the variant first detected in the U.K. There are four cases of the one detected in South Africa.

Henry said on Monday that the province has increased surveillance for these variants.

“And we’ve been targetting school-aged children and so far none of (the) tests on anybody who’s in the school system have turned up positive. So we have stepped up our surveillance,” she said.

-With files from Marcella Bernardo