Dr. Bonnie Henry says 1-metre distance acceptable in classrooms as teachers push for smaller class sizes

B.C.'s provincial health officer says students returning to school next week will not necessarily have to stay two metres apart within classrooms, as has been the protocol for physical distancing measures since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Bonnie Henry announced Thursday that one metre instead of two is acceptable in controlled environments where a limited number of people are together for an ongoing period of time, such as in classrooms.

"Two metres is better but with the same people that you are with on an ongoing basis, one metre is probably fine for most of your interactions," she said during a news conference.

Henry's comments on physical distancing come as teachers push for more space in classrooms and common areas in schools.

The B.C. Teachers' Federation (BCTF) has said federal funding earmarked for reopening B.C. schools should be used to create smaller class sizes and reduce school and classroom density, create hybrid and remote learning options in every district, and fund mental-health resources for students.

On Wednesday, the province said the $242 million in federal money will be given to school districts to spend based on their needs over the coming months.

"Thirty desks in a classroom is still a lot," BCTF president Terri Mooring told CBC's The Early Edition on Thursday.

"We need to see districts applying that money to ensure that physical distancing is available and possible in classrooms."


Students are expected back in school on Sept. 10 in the wake of what has been, according to Henry, a "substantial increase" in the number of new cases of COVID-19 confirmed in B.C.

As of Sept. 3, there are 1,175 active cases of coronavirus in the province, with 34 people in hospital and 11 of those in intensive care.

According to Caroline Colijn, a mathematician at Simon Fraser University, up to five per cent of elementary schools and 25 per cent of high schools could have an infectious COVID-19 case coming in on Day 1 of reopening.

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

Education Minister Rob Fleming said if a case of the virus is found in a school, public health authorities will take control of the situation, isolate the individual and begin contact tracing.

He said if a student has COVID-19, they will be removed from the building and parents and guardians will be notified. It is possible, said Fleming, that an entire cohort, or learning group, would have to self-isolate.

According to the provincial plan, elementary and middle school students will be organized into cohorts of up to 60 students, while those in secondary school will have up to 120.

"Anybody that would be deemed to have been part of an exposure would be required to isolate at home for 14 days," said Fleming on The Early Edition on Friday.

To hear the complete interview with Terri Mooring on The Early Edition, tap here. To hear the complete interview with Rob Fleming on The Early Edition, tap here.