Bonnie Henry backs BC’s COVID-19 school plan, dismisses mask mandate as ‘brutal tool’

VANCOUVER — British Columbia provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry defends the provincial pandemic back-to-school guidelines against calls from some parent and teacher groups for COVID-19 protocols. 19 stricter.

Guidelines released Thursday encourage students and others to get vaccinated and stay home when sick, while masking remains optional and is described as a « personal or family choice ».

Henry, who called mandatory masking a « blunt tool, » said the province will monitor the spread of COVID-19 and other viruses, and be prepared to use temporary measures when and if needed.

« We need to adapt the measures we have to what we’re facing right now, and I think those are the right measures as we head into the fall, » she said in an interview on Friday.

“We are in a very different place than we were even a year ago with the high level of immunity and exposure to the virus that we have had, and the virus itself has changed to be a place where it is much more transmissible but does not cause serious illness. »

Clint Johnston, president of the BC Teachers Federation, said the union believes schools need stricter measures than businesses or public spaces and is calling for better ventilation in classrooms and masking requirements.

« There’s an excitement going into the school year that’s still there, which is nice, but we’re hoping people are watching and that the Department of Health stays really nimble, » he said. in an interview. « We hope they are prepared and ready with contingencies and plans to deal with whatever arises. »

In a joint statement on Thursday, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education encouraged parents to vaccinate their children against COVID-19 and other diseases and to keep them home if they are sick, saying that it was « particularly important ahead of respiratory disease season ».

“Wearing a mask will continue to be a personal choice, and that choice will be supported and respected. Schools will continue to have masks available for those who want to wear one,” the statement read.

Jennifer Heighton, co-founder of Safe Schools Coalition BC, said the organization was « extremely frustrated » to learn that the year would begin « without better protections in the classroom, such as universal masking with better masks provided and the HEPA filtration ».

She said school is an essential service that should be available to all children in Canada, but some parents are forced to « choose between school or health. »

« It’s an impossible choice to make, » she said. « It’s a fairness issue. It is a question of human rights.

Henry, who was part of the task force that developed the guidelines, said she doesn’t see the large mask mandates coming back.

« It’s a very brutal tool, and it’s kind of a last resort tool, » Henry said. « It has to be in the context of what’s happening in the community and what’s happening across the province, and whether there’s a real need for that kind of restriction, especially a legal mandate like that. «

Henry said the province is now focused on encouraging parents to get their youngsters vaccinated against COVID-19 and the flu.

« What’s really important is staying up to date on vaccinations for all the vaccine-preventable diseases we give to children, » she said.

“As we enter October, November, December, I expect to see both a surge of COVID this year and I fear we will see other respiratory illnesses that we haven’t seen in a while. some time, especially the flu.

About half of children aged five to 11 in British Columbia have so far received two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, Henry said.

« It’s not as high as we would like, » she said.

But she said around 90 per cent of children aged 12 to 17 had had two injections.

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, announced last Friday that Health Canada has authorized the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine as a booster for children ages 5 to 11. The dosage for children ages 5 to 11 is less than 10 micrograms, compared to 30 micrograms for ages 12 and older.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization has said that children with underlying medical conditions or who are immunocompromised, putting them at increased risk of serious infection with COVID-19, should receive a booster at least six months after received their second injection.

He said that as of July 17, 42% of children aged 5 to 11 in Canada had received their first dose.

Johnston said the union supports the province’s efforts to get children vaccinated, but fears that alone isn’t enough.

« We fully support vaccination and hope that everyone who can get vaccinated, (but) to prevent actual transmission, vaccinated or not, we still see masks and ventilation as two of the really key parts of this, » he said.

The province said it has invested more than $166.5 million to upgrade and improve ventilation in classrooms since the pandemic began.

“This amount is expected to increase as school districts provide final costs for ventilation improvements funded through their annual facility grant allocations, with actual amounts becoming known at the end of the 22/23 school year,” said the Department of Health in an emailed statement on Friday. .

The federal government also announced in March that it would provide an additional $11.9 million to British Columbia for ventilation-related improvements, but the Department of Education has yet to reveal how that will be used.

Kyenta Martins, vice chair of the Vancouver District Parent Advisory Council, said the group expects COVID-19 to spike as schools open and colder weather approaches.

« We know it’s coming, » she said. “Good air means everything. Parents want in-person schooling where the air is safe.

She said the group was also calling for more HEPA filtration and CO2 monitors in classrooms « so teachers get real-time air quality data. »

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on August 26, 2022.


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