Surrey schools expand mask mandate: older students must wear them at all times indoors

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Teachers and school staff from the Surrey school district line up to receive their COVID-19 vaccination at an immunization clinic in the Fraser Health region on Tuesday.  (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
Teachers and school staff from the Surrey school district line up to receive their COVID-19 vaccination at an immunization clinic in the Fraser Health region on Tuesday. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

The Surrey school district now requires all students in Grades 4 to 12 to wear masks indoors, including while they are with their learning groups.

For students in kindergarten to Grade 3, the district "strongly recommends and encourages the wearing of a non-medical mask." The new directive applies to staff in all grades.

The district says exceptions will be made for anyone unable to wear a face covering "because of a psychological, behavioural or health condition; or a physical, cognitive or intellectual impairment."

Other exceptions include for individuals who can't put on or remove a face covering on their own, when a person is eating or drinking, or for teachers providing instruction more than two metres from others.

"With the increasing trend in community incidence of COVID-19 in the Surrey region, and the corresponding likelihood of increasing exposures in Surrey schools, our district will begin implementation of an additional measure, mandated by public health for our schools," the district wrote on its website.

908 new COVID-19 cases in B.C.

On Friday, B.C. recorded 908 new cases of COVID-19, 438 in the Fraser Health Region, which includes Surrey.

The district says the health order was developed by Fraser Health's chief medical officer, in consultation with the provincial health officer, Ministry of Education and Surrey Board of Education.

The B.C. Teachers' Federation has been calling for a mask mandate for all grades for months.

Earlier this month, the federation said WorkSafeBC data shows a 250 per cent increase in occupational COVID-19 infection claims in the education services sector since early December, intensifying B.C. teachers' calls for enhanced safety protocols in schools.

The district says health and safety protocols must evolve along with the pandemic.

Staff in the district have started to receive COVID-19 vaccines. The district says its 8,500 staff are on track to be vaccinated by April 1.

Two weeks ago, the district added new targeted measures to contain the spread of COVID-19.

These included increasing vigilance during outdoor playtime so students don't mingle across cohorts, ensuring that all students and parents vacate school grounds immediately after school, and adding three early dismissals so health and safety committees can review and adjust protocols as needed.