Students in B.C. won’t be required to wear a face mask when school resumes in the fall, according to Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.
“There will not be a mandate for kids to wear masks at schools,” she said during Wednesday’s COVID-19 press conference.
“We know from evidence around the world that’s not needed.”
A survey released earlier this week by Leger found that parents in B.C. largely support kids having to wear masks when they return to classrooms in September.
Seventy-three per cent of B.C. respondents said they are in favour of a full-time mask requirement at school and on school buses. Other respondents – 51 per cent – said they support B.C. students wearing masks some of the time, such as outside of classrooms and on a school bus.
Across the country, 62 per cent of Canadians support the idea of children wearing masks at school.
But wearing masks for a long period of time – for example, a full school day – is “not recommended by anybody in any situation,” and is “not what keeps people safe,” Henry said.
“There are other ways – important ways – of being able to learn in classroom for young children, for children of all ages, that can be done safely.”
Henry pointed to the “hierarchy of controls” that health officials have advised since the start of the pandemic: ensuring distancing, making sure there's small numbers of people and physical barriers in place, and looking at administrative ways of reducing risks.
B.C. reopened schools in June on a voluntary, part-time basis. After that reopening, only two COVID-19 cases in the province were linked to the school system. Both cases were teachers, and no students were affected.
However, the Leger poll found that 63 per cent of B.C. respondents are worried about the return to in-class learning after the summer. Seventy-six per cent said they support a combination of in-class and online learning.
But Henry says the province has been using its experience in June to help come up with the to-be-announced plan for the fall.
“For schools, we’ve been doing a lot of work with the experience that we’ve had in June to understand how that can be done safely across all grades, and we’ll be talking more about that coming up,” said Henry.
“There’s been a lot of thought and effort put into it.”
Ultimately, she said, the goal is to put as many children as possible back in school, in a learning environment.
"We know that it's important for a whole variety of reasons for children to have in-classroom learning, and we know that it's important for educators to have that environment as well. And it can be done safely."