The day after the Surrey School District announced that close to 50 individuals were diagnosed with COVID-19 at Earl Marriott Secondary, all of whom were from five classes, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry maintained that mandatory masks in schools is not the answer to prevent further transmission.
Sunday, school superintendent Jordan Tinney wrote a letter to parents advising them of the COVID-19 cases. He wrote that the school is “adjusting some of our protocols” when it comes to physical education, “where we have a number of cases and space is limited.”
According to provincial health orders, masks are mandated in high-traffic areas of schools, but students are free to remove their masks in class or during physical education.
When Henry was asked Monday about transmission at Earl Marriot, she said mandatory masks are not the solution.
“Masks are an important part of safety procedures in the schools, all schools. However, we know that when you’re exercising, physical exercise, when they get moist they are not as effective,” Henry said.
“I don’t think that’s the answer to PE classes, but I do think there are things that need to be put in place that if PE classes are being offered, they’re being offered safely.”
Henry said that physical education is an important part of school in terms of learning. While she said physical education classes can happen safely, she acknowledged that “we need to re-look at how it is done.”
According to the Government of Canada, COVID-19 infects people through respiratory droplets and aerosols created when an infected person coughs, sneezes, sings, shouts or talks.
“The droplets vary in size from large droplets that fall to the ground rapidly near the infected person, or small droplets, sometimes called aerosols, which linger in the air under some circumstances,” according to the federal government.
Preventing infection, Henry said, involves “layers of protection,” including reducing the number of people inside a closed space and maintaining distance.
“It doesn’t necessarily need to be two metres, depending on what you’re doing, it may need to be wider than two metres,” Henry said, adding that high intensity training would require more than two metres of space, physical barriers or better ventilation.
Asked about ventilation in schools, Henry said she’s been working with the ministry of education to use federal money to increase ventilation quality.
“That’s only one of the pieces. The challenge that we run into is that there is no one thing that’s going to make the difference, it’s having all of those pieces in place, in the right place, and then sticking with it,” she said. “That’s been our challenge, we all know that we get complacent over time or we forget or we bend the rules a little bit.”
B.C. has reported 2,211 new COVID-19 cases and 45 deaths over the past four days.