Back to school: Masks no longer required when BC teachers and students return from spring break

On Monday, BC students and teachers will head back to class after spring break without a mask mandate in schools.

Surrey secondary school teacher Annie Ohana said a number of students at LA Matheson indicated to her before spring break they would continue wearing a mask for many reasons, including living with more vulnerable family members.

“We know the vaccine is not a cure-all,” she said. “In a building of 1,300 people like my school is, it’s not the same as a small office where you see a couple people.”

Ohana said she is immune-compromised herself, and will also continue to wear a mask.

“The evidence for me is clear that to be safe for a little while longer I will be wearing a mask,” she said. “At the end of the day, it’s about making a comfortable environment so that those who want to wear their mask can do so without harassment, without fear.”

Victoria parent Mollie Kaye said she feels lifting the mandate in schools at this time is ill-advised, citing the fact that people may have traveled over spring break, as well as the rise of the BA.2 sub-variant of Omicron and ongoing concerns about ventilation.

“It really does feel like an abandonment of the people who are most vulnerable, and you have to wonder why that’s acceptable,” she said. “What I think people are missing is that you extend the pandemic with every round of mass infection because you’re giving the virus an opportunity to replicate and mutate.”

The BC Teachers Federation has called on the province to provide N95 masks through school districts for whoever wants them, and the advocacy group Safe Schools Coalition BC has previously called on the government to reinstate the mandate until the end of the school year, citing lower vaccination rates among elementary-school-aged children as one reason for its position.

In a recent statement to CTV News, the Ministry of Health said “public health (officials) based this decision on a careful review of where we are in BC in this pandemic.”

“Teachers and staff should model and reinforce wearing a mask is a personal choice that will be supported and treated with respect,” the ministry said. “We all have different levels of comfort as we move toward living with fewer restrictions, and we must respect the choices of those around us.”

The ministry said it will continue to monitor virus activity, including breakthrough infections and severity of illness.

“We do know that we have high levels of immunity in BC,” the ministry said. “And that will help keep people protected over the next several weeks and months.”

The ministry added other measures also remain important, such as staying home when sick.

For those who left the country for a spring break vacation, the federal government has said fully vaccinated travelers and unvaccinated children under 12 years old must wear a “well-constructed, well-fitting mask in public settings” for 14 days following entry into Canada.

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