As COVID-19 Delta variant case numbers trend upwards, the BC Teachers’ Federation is continuing its push for strong health and safety mandates to protect students and staff returning to school in September.
“We are hearing from more concerned families than ever before in this pandemic. They’re worried that their children who are too young to be vaccinated might be going back to school without enough protections in place,” said BCTF President Teri Mooring. “Things are most definitely not normal right now, so we can’t carry on as if they were.”
The BCTF is advocating for a broad, province-wide mask mandate to start the school year, as well as ventilation improvements and cleaning of all high-touch surfaces during the school day.
The BCTF supports a regional approach to adjusting school safety measures as required over the school year, emphasizing that decisions must be informed by timely, transparent regional data and involve local stakeholders from the education and public health sectors. Factors such as community rates of vaccination and transmission must be considered, as public health continues to assert that school transmission reflects what is happening in the larger community.
“Given what we know about the highly contagious Delta variant, we need to err on the side of caution and return to schools with everyone wearing masks. Vaccinations are integral to safer schools, but can’t be our only line of defense,” said Mooring. “We know for certain that none of the students 11 years old or younger will be vaccinated, and the vaccination rate for eligible youth still isn’t as high as we would all hope to see.”
The BCTF is also urging government to implement the following measures ahead of the new school year:
- School-based clinics to allow easy access to vaccinations for eligible students.
- Funding for ventilation system upgrades to meet the minimum standards of MERV 13 filters, and HEPA filters in workspaces where MERV 13 filters are not possible.
- N95 and/or medical-grade masks available for all students and staff upon request.
- Comprehensive COVID-19 testing strategy that includes asymptomatic testing.
- Designated time for health and safety training at all schools and worksites.