Some parents and teachers want tougher COVID guidelines in schools this fall
As thousands of children across British Columbia return to school in days, some parents and teachers say they want to ensure minimizing the risk of COVID-19 remains a priority.
Although the Omicron BA.5 wave peaked in early August according to the BC COVID-19 modeling group, many British Columbians are expected to receive their fourth dose of the COVID-19 vaccine this fall, to protect against the possibility of another wave of infection.
When students returned to in-person classes earlier in the pandemic, schools had mask mandates and safety plans in place. This year, parents are concerned about a lack of concrete protection measures.
“I would like to see masks,” said Kyenta Martins, vice president of the Vancouver District Parent Advisory Council. She says she’s not asking for a mask mandate, but rather educating people across the province on why they should be worn.
She says the council would also like to see the Department of Health and epidemiologists establish clear guidelines on masking, ventilation and filtration to best protect students and teachers.
In an August 25 statement, the Ministry of Health, along with the Ministry of Education and Child Care strongly encouraged families to update their children’s vaccinations.
They said those with children between the ages of five and 11 were eligible for the boosters, while children between the ages of six months and four years could be vaccinated.
About half of B.C. children between the ages of five and 11 have received two doses of the vaccine, according to provincial health officer Bonnie Henry, who added that’s not high enough.
The press release said wearing masks is “a personal choice, and one that will be supported and respected,” adding that masks will be available in schools for anyone who wants them but are not mandatory.
Henry defended the policy, saying there are now higher levels of immunity and the virus has mutated to become more transmissible but cause less severe disease.
« 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 go into October, November, December, I expect to see both a surge of COVID this year and I’m afraid we’re going to see other respiratory illnesses that we haven’t seen in a while. some time, especially the flu. »
However, Jennifer Heighton, a Burnaby elementary school teacher and co-founder of the Safe Schools Coalition BC, says masks should be a universal requirement for those learning and working in schools.
“We are dealing with more transmissible variants and this can re-infect again and again,” she said.
Annie Ohana, a secondary school teacher in Surrey, agrees.
« I don’t like the fact that schools are treated like an island, as if the transmission does not take place or the transmission [in] children are less susceptible. None of that is true. »
Meanwhile, the BC government says it has invested more than $166.5 million in upgrading and improving classroom ventilation since the pandemic began. The federal government also provided $11.9 million “to ensure air quality” in classrooms.
BC Teachers Federation President Clint Johnston said The first edition host Stephen Quinn many masked students and teachers last year and he hopes that will continue. The federation is asking for N95 masks, he added.
He also says that the ventilation in the schools has improved, but it is not enough.
« There are a lot of systems across the province that are not necessarily capable of receiving that MERV-13 rating. [hospital level air quality]. Workarounds have been attempted, but that’s why we believe the work needs to continue, the systems need to be upgraded. »
MERV stands for Minimum Efficiency Ratio Values and its ratings range from 1 to 16. Higher ratings indicate greater efficiency in trapping airborne particles between 0.3 and 10 microns.
The Department of Health clarified in an email that about four percent of classrooms, including portable classrooms, do not have mechanical ventilation and that the province provides funding to school districts to install units. self-contained HEPA filtration units earlier this year.
« Based on a survey of 60 school districts over the past school year, we know that over 1,750 stand-alone HEPA filtration units have been purchased for deployment in K-12 schools through 2022 funding. -23, » the ministry said.
The Vancouver School Board responded in an email that federal funds had been invested in new ventilation and heating equipment for portable venues, as well as refurbishing « dozens of air supply units in classrooms, gymnasiums and auditoriums ».
« All of our air filters are changed three times a year and have been converted to MERV-13 where applicable. These activities will continue through the fall of 2023. »
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