British Columbia

Parents, teachers renew calls for mandatory masks in B.C. schools as COVID-19 variants spread

Teachers and parents are again calling for a provincewide mandatory mask mandate in schools, as 18 cases of new COVID-19 variants have now been confirmed in B.C.

Mandatory masks would ease fears, staff and parents say

On Monday, health officials began testing staff and students at Garibaldi Secondary School in Maple Ridge to determine whether they may have been exposed to a COVID-19 variant. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Teachers and parents are again calling for a provincewide mandatory mask mandate in schools, as 18 cases of new COVID-19 variants have now been confirmed in B.C.

On Monday, health officials began testing staff and students to determine whether they may have been exposed to a variant at Garibaldi Secondary School in Maple Ridge. 

For some B.C. parents, it's a scenario that's reinforced their decision to keep kids out of in-class learning.

Tessa Russell, a mother of three in Kelowna, says she struggled with the decision to send her children back to in-class learning this semester. She says the fact the province doesn't mandate masks in schools was a deciding factor in keeping them at home to continue online learning.

According to Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, data so far suggests COVID-19 transmission is generally low in schools, but Russell is wary. 

"We knew that there were several cases among people that we were aware of, and yet we were hearing there was no in-school transmission," Russell told CBC's BC Today. 

"It just doesn't match up with what we know."

On Monday, Henry said the rise in cases associated with the variants first found in the U.K. and South Africa is one of the most concerning issues facing the province right now. 

While rapid testing is a useful tool for detecting potential transmission in cases like Garibaldi secondary, she said it is not the "highest priority" or most effective measure to prevent COVID-19 transmission in all school settings. 

'People in the grocery store have more protection than teachers'

The B.C. Teachers' Federation has been calling for a stronger mask mandate in schools since the summer. President Teri Mooring says she's glad to hear staff and students at Garibaldi secondary will be tested, but worries not all schools in B.C. have access to the same safety measures. 

"This is something we've been calling for across the province," Mooring said.

"The concern for us of course is these safety measures are in place for some students and education workers including teachers, and not others."

Carmen Secotte, who lives in Langley, says she has six friends who are teachers who are "terrified" that masks aren't mandated in all classrooms in B.C. Given the new variants, she believes the province has a duty to implement stricter masking measures in schools. 

"People in the grocery store have much, much more protection than teachers do," Secotte said.

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