B.C. expands school mask mandate to all K-12 students

Amid growing pressure from parents and teachers, the B.C. government has expanded its school mask mandate to include all students and staff from kindergarten through Grade 12 across the province.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced the new health and safety measure on Friday, citing the recent spike in cases involving children between the ages of five and 11.

"The majority of COVID transmission continues to occur in homes and through social networks," Henry said. "Nevertheless, increased diagnoses has lead to increased numbers of potential exposure events and several school outbreaks have been detected and reported."

Previously, Henry's public health order only required masking for students in Grade 4 through 12. But many parents and educators expressed concerns going into the school year, particularly with the highly contagious Delta variant dominating in Canada as younger children remain ineligible for vaccination.

Several school districts in Metro Vancouver, including Vancouver and Surrey, voted to implement their own expanded mask mandates this week in order to address those concerns.

Henry, who was joined by Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside, said the new masking requirement will help ensure children can continue going to school in-person full time.

"This additional measure we are putting in place today is one more layer that will ensure we can continue to engage and support children throughout this ever-changing pandemic," Henry said.

The expanded mask mandate will take effect on Monday, Oct. 4, and remain in place through the fall semester. Students will be required to keep their mask on while inside schools, including at their desks, and on buses.

Officials acknowledged that some kids, especially young ones, may have difficulty with the new rules, but said they're confident staff will support and encourage them to keep wearing their masks inside classrooms.

Whiteside said teachers are working hard to create a positive environment that encourages children to wear their mask in order to care for one another.

Henry also announced that B.C. will be releasing a new monthly report about the virus and how it affects school-aged children, beginning this month.

Regional medical health officers may still recommend additional school health and safety measures in response to local conditions, according to the Ministry of Health.