Despite growing concern regarding the soaring number of positive COVID-19 cases in Metro Vancouver schools, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says in-person education is an important part of development for children--and that includes physical education.
During the first coronavirus (COVID-19) briefing of 2021 on Monday, Jan. 4, B.C.'s top doctor told reporters that health officials are reevaluating safety measures and plans after the Surrey School District reported a staggering 50 cases of the virus at Earl Marriott Secondary School.
"We know that it's really important and that for some children, the physical aspect of school is important in terms of their learning," said Henry. "So there are ways that can be done safely, the fact that it's happened in one place means that we need to re-look at how it is done and can be done safely."
While British Columbians must wear face masks inside all public indoor spaces, the Provincial Health Order does not require children to wear them while they are in class.
Henry added that wearing facial coverings during P.E. would be especially difficult because masks are "not as effective when they get moist." However, she added that there are measures that need to be put in place to ensure P.E. classes are offered safely.
Stronger coronavirus (COVID-19) safety protocol in B.C. schools
An increased volume of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines is expected starting March 2021 in B.C., but children won't receive vaccines during the initial rollouts.
Henry noted that there are some activities, such as high-intensity gym classes, that require more space between people, or possibly even physical barriers. She also mentioned that the Ministry of Education is looking into ways to improve ventilation in schools.
"But that's only one of the pieces of the challenge that we run into," said Henry. "There's no one thing that is going to make the difference--it's having all of those pieces in the right place and then sticking with it.
"And that's been our challenge: we all know that we get complacent over time--we forget and then we bend the rules a little bit."
'We are not safe': Surrey teachers appeal to Dr. Bonnie Henry for stronger COVID-19 school protocol
In December, the Surrey Teachers Association wrote an open letter to Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry that called for stronger coronavirus (COVID-19) safety protocol in schools.
The letter noted that over 6,000 teachers are employed in the Surrey School District, which is also the largest in B.C. With over 75,000 students in K-12 in 130 schools, some are so "severely crowded that there are as many as 20 portables on the fields or parking lots."
The letter adds that masks should be mandated for everyone in schools--not only teachers and adults. Further, classrooms should be reduced in size by 50 per cent to ensure safe physical distance.
There are now 54,201 cases of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in B.C. after health officials announced 2,211 new cases Monday.
Henry added that British Columbians must "Keep it up, keep it going, let's make this year our year of success overcoming COVID-19.
"We will get through this storm."