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

Full in-classroom instruction set to resume next week
An N95 respirator for industrial protection from particles and droplets. Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry advises that cloth masks, preferably with three layers, are sufficient for school and in retail stores. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

B.C. schools have partially reopened and will be available to all students as of Jan. 10, and proper use of masks and other COVID-19 infection controls means they are safe for students and teachers, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says.

It’s more important that a mask fit well and be worn consistently in schools and other indoor group settings than it is to have N95 respirators designed for medical or industrial protection, Henry said at a pandemic briefing from Vancouver Tuesday.

“Remember that the mask alone, of course, is not your only protection,” Henry said Jan. 4. “You need to use all of these layers, including vaccination, including keeping your distance, including minimizing the time that you’re in a crowded indoor space, particularly if the ventilation is poor.

“I know some people have called for the increased use of respirators or N95s routinely, and I’ll just say in the majority of settings, the incremental benefit in a low-risk setting like a school or a retail store is minimal. What is most important is that you have a good-fitting mask that you wear and you wear appropriately.”

COVID-19 test results continue to show low risk of infection leading to severe illness in young people, as the fast-spreading Omicron variant is now shown in at least 80 per cent of new cases in B.C. A return to school is vital for children’s development, she said.

“This remains our highest priority and I know the highest priority of the tens of thousands of school staff, teachers, educators, and parents and principals and school district staff across the province,” Henry said. “We’re committed to making sure that we’re getting children back as soon as possible and doing our best for our children across the province.”

The latest pandemic restrictions have also shut down gyms, fitness facilities and dance studios at a time of cold weather. Henry said that situation is being reviewed, along with a decision to restrict visitors to seniors’ long-term care homes to essential visits only.

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