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Maple Ridge Teachers Association president frustrated about mixed messages as government changes mask wearing policy

Students in Grades 4 to 12 must wear masks in all indoor spaces
Masks are now mandatory from Grades 4 to 12. (The News files). (The News files)


That is the word the head of the teachers association in Maple Ridge used to describe the mask mandate for schools that was announced by the province on Monday.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, announced new restrictions to halt the spread of COVID-19 including suspending indoor religious gatherings, cancelling indoor group exercise classes, the closure of restaurants, bars and pubs for indoor dining and the closure of Whistler Blackcomb ski resort.

She also announced updated recommendations for elementary students whereby those in Grades 4-12 are being “encouraged” to wear masks at school.

However, after much confusion, the order was changed late Tuesday evening to “required”.

READ MORE: Maple Ridge teachers disappointed they are no longer a priority for COVID vaccinations

Students in Grades 4-12 are now required to wear non-medical masks in all indoor areas. This includes at their work stations or desks, on school buses, and both within and outside of learning groups. Students in Kindergarten to Grade 3 are encouraged to wear masks.

Trevor Takasaki, president of the Maple Ridge Teachers Association, is frustrated with the inconsistency of the government’s message.

“We have been asking for a mask mandate in elementary schools since the beginning of the year. And we’ve always said it can only help, it can’t hurt.”

However, only now that there is a third wave and things are getting worse across the province, the government has changed course, noted Takasaki.

READ MORE: BCTF wants more mask wearing in schools, citing new variants

“At worst it does nothing. At best it helps. So let’s do it,” he said of wearing masks.

Korleen Carreras, chair of the Maple Ridge Pitt Meadows school board, received the updated Ministry of Education health and safety guidelines late Tuesday evening. She welcomes the expanded guidance and mask requirement.

“Now that we have been provided with the written health guidance and updated health and safety guidelines, we will begin implementing the new requirements in our district,” she said.

Carreras noted staff and students were provided with reusable masks in September and January and disposable masks are also available at schools.

“I have heard from many schools in our district that there is already a strong culture of mask wearing in place, and I believe this expanded requirement will be embraced in our school communities,” Carreras said.

The district has worked closely with Fraser Health Authority throughout the pandemic, and has relied on their advice to keep schools safe, she said. She also noted the rise in COVID-19 cases, in particular the rising variant case-count, has led to a heightened concern in the school communities. But schools continue to be considered safe environments and rates of transmission in schools remain very low.

“This tells us that our COVID 19 safety protocols are working.”

Takasaki wonders why it took so long for the government to make masks mandatory.

“Everyone kind of knows that kids may be asymptomatic but can still carry that COVID to other people. So the question is – is there something mechanically different about a mask on a Grade 7 student or a Grade 5 student,” asked Takasaki.

The answer, he said, was no.

So, why wouldn’t the government, out of an abundance of caution, have implemented masks before now, he asked.

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Colleen Flanagan

About the Author: Colleen Flanagan

I got my start with Black Press Media in 2003 as a photojournalist.
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