Photo: The Canadian Press
BCTF Chairman Teri Mooring.
The BC government will not provide respirators to teachers ahead of the reopening of schools on January 10, as requested by the BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) last month.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Friday that well-fitting three-layer masks are sufficient as part of “layers of protection” in schools, citing reduced mixing between children in schools. Henry also said N95 masks only provide “moderately increased filtration” and “I think we need to be pragmatic and practical,” claiming that outbreaks generally don’t occur in schools.
But BCTF chairman Teri Mooring points to Ontario, where teachers are assured of N95 masks. After Henry’s press conference Friday, Mooring said better masking could prevent illness among teachers and avoid potential shutdowns due to staff shortages.
“We think N95s are a tentative move that would add to those layers,” Mooring said, noting that neither Henry nor Health Secretary Adrian Dix have given any reason why they cannot provide such masks.
What is unclear is the state of the supply of N95 masks. The US CDC still claims on its website that such masks should be reserved for health professionals. Such masks provide excellent filtration while inhaling, notes the Mayo Clinic.
Among other things, Mooring is calling for a faster booster-shot program for teachers, who are 96% vaccinated with two shots.
“We hear teachers say they can’t book their appointments earlier than they wanted to,” says Mooring.
If enough teachers get sick, “we’ll end up with functional closures,” Mooring said.
In addition, “hybrid learning,” or online and face-to-face learning, remains a challenge with ongoing staff shortages.
Education Secretary Jennifer Whiteside said Friday that contact tracing in schools will not exist. Instead, when a school notifies the public health of a “sign of concern regarding attendance,” a notification will go to the school community. When a school closes, homeschooling begins.
Since the government has limited capacity to test for COVID-19, Dix said 200,000 rapid tests will be issued for school staff across the province. More tests that can only be used by health officials will be used in school outbreaks, Henry said.
“We’ve reached our limits here,” she said of PCR testing.
The government tells people at low risk and vaccinated people with mild symptoms not to get tested. Testing is rationed to health professionals and vulnerable individuals.
Dix has claimed the province has the capacity to test 20,000 people a day; however, it’s only averaged about 14,500 per day in the past week. The rest of those tests are performed by private companies.