British Columbia

B.C. weighing different options for September, with school announcement expected Wednesday

Provincial authorities say families and workplaces need to be flexible as B.C. works on a plan for the start of the school year which may, or may not, bring kids back into classrooms this September.

Dr. Bonnie Henry says families and employers need to stay flexible

About a third of B.C. schoolchildren have returned to school for in-class instruction. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Provincial authorities say families and workplaces need to be flexible as B.C. works on a plan for the start of the school year which may, or may not, bring kids back into classrooms this September.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says while sending students back to school increases the risk of transmission, there are also negative consequences to keeping them out of classroom learning environments.

"We know there's tremendous impacts on emotional health, on mental health, on other factors around the children's ability to socialize and to learn," she said Monday during the province's COVID briefing. "We're putting so much effort into making sure we can do this in a way that supports all children and their learning needs in the fall."

B.C. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic on July 16, 2020. (Michael McArthur/CBC)

The government of B.C. is expected to announce its school plan on Wednesday.

Henry believes there are ways that "almost all" children can return to classes.

Safety concerns

Meanwhile, the president of the B.C. Teachers' Federation says teachers are concerned about returning to work in September.

When asked about how teachers and students can stay safe while returning to classrooms, Henry said that the province has learned a lot from the experience of reopening schools in June.

"We've had outbreaks in schools before, we know how to handle them," she said. "We can manage those concerns together." 

She said some options on the table are treating age cohorts, as their own type of social bubble.

As she's repeatedly mentioned over the past few months, Henry doesn't believe making masks mandatory is the right approach based on the evidence she's seeing.

"At this point, there's no intention to make it mandatory, and certainly not in classroom situations for young children," she said.

Henry added there may be a role for masks when students travel to and from school, particularly on transit, or in hallways when physical distancing isn't feasible. However, she explained that much of the transmission in workplaces and in school settings is between the adults in those settings and therefore masks might be used in areas like break rooms where adults are together.

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