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BCTF calls for N95s, boosters, enhanced ventilation to curb Omicron spread in schools

BCTF president Teri Mooring spoke at a news conference after the province’s plan was announced
A crossing guard stops traffic as students wearing face masks to curb the spread of COVID-19 arrive at Ecole Woodward Hill Elementary School, in Surrey, B.C., on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Following the province’s Jan. 7 announcement for a return to K-12 schooling, the BC Teachers Federation is calling for additional safety measures to keep staff and students safe.

BCTF president Teri Mooring said the province should provide N95 masks for any students and staff who want them. The province is providing three-ply medical masks, which Mooring said is a good start.

“We are glad to hear that masks will be readily available and that their importance will be underlined because one of the issues we’ve been dealing with is a lack of support for teachers trying to make sure the provincial health order is enforced,” she said. “We think N95s are a small step to add another layer of protection.”

Mooring also called for teachers to be prioritized for vaccine booster doses. She said many teachers have expressed they have had a difficult time booking booster appointments and expressed concern that January could see teachers off sick with COVID-19 infections.

On the note of vaccinations, Mooring called for more efforts to vaccinate children aged 5-11 and increase access for families seeking their first dose. She pointed to low vaccination rates in Northern Health and Interior Health as a cause for concern.

Ventilation in schools has been an ongoing concern for the BCTF throughout the pandemic. Mooring acknowledged the province has done extensive work to identify issues and upgrade ventilation systems for schools but noted some schools lack MERV-13 filtration systems. MERV-13 filters capture more virus-sized particles but can increase strain on ventilation systems that may only be capable of operating standard MERV-8 filters.

“What we’re trying to prevent are the functional closures,” she said. “Our concern when it comes to functional closures is that there will be very little notice and that can be very disruptive in the system.”

Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside said the province won’t provide individual case information or COVID exposure notices to families. Instead, the province will report cases only if attendance drops below typical rates.

READ MORE: B.C. to deploy rapid COVID-19 tests for school staff when they arrive

READ MORE: B.C. schools essential, medical masks aren’t, Dr. Bonnie Henry says


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