Surrey schools to mandate K-12 masks as Covid cases rise in kids

Surrey Board of Education will also employ take-home test kits and hopes to develop in-school vaccine clinics

At the start of the school year the provincial government removed social distance requirements, stopped exposure notices and failed to institute masks for students from Kindergarten to Grade 3. | Getty Images/spmemory

The Surrey Board of Education announced Wednesday evening a new set of pandemic prevention measures for its district, including the mandating of masks for all students starting Monday.

Amid rising COVID-19 (Covid) cases among unvaccinated children and growing criticism of the BC NDP government’s failure to implement pandemic measures in schools, the Surrey School District is also going to employ take-home gargle test kits for any children who develop Covid symptoms while at school.

Furthermore, the district also announced its intentions to host vaccine clinics at schools, through a partnership with Fraser Health.

Finally, the district is vouching to ensure classroom exposure notices from the health authority are timely, transparent, and include information about clusters.

"We need to ensure that all layers of protection available are being used and that our community is adequately informed. We currently have schools with multiple cases and multiple classes in isolation and we want our staff and students to be safe,” said Laurie Larsen, Chair of the Surrey Board of Education, in a written online statement before announcing the changes.

Larsen said she met with Fraser Health’s Medical Health Officer to share concerns about notifying communities of cases.

At the start of the school year the provincial government removed social distance requirements, stopped exposure notices and failed to institute masks for students from Kindergarten to Grade 3. Government has also restricted testing capacity, with only one collection centre for the entire city, which now faces long lines.

However it has now become clear to officials that the Delta variant of the novel coronavirus is spreading among children. 

At a press conference Tuesday afternoon, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the last week has seen a spike in tested coronavirus cases among three young cohorts: those aged 0-4, 5-11 and 12-17.

Between Sept. 17 and 23, the BC Centre for Disease Control recorded 1,086 new cases in people 17 and under, with more than half in children between 5-11. 

“The rates that we’re seeing right now of COVID-19 per 100,000 population is going up quite dramatically, particularly in those younger school-age children who are not yet eligible for vaccination," she said. 

But Henry’s most recent public health order does not include mask mandates for younger students. It does leave open the ability of school districts to implement their own regulations.

As such, the Vancouver Board of Education, this week, mandated masks for K-3, with Surrey now in tow.

Notably, health officials, such as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), have guidelines for properly using masks.

Regarding test kits, it was in May when the district announced an initiative to have 12 kits at each school for symptomatic cases.

Surrey’s district has more students than any other, with more than 72,000. Among local health areas in the province, Surrey is now reporting more total, weekly cases than any other, although on a per capita basis it is among the bottom quarter. Its test positivity rate is about 3.1%-5%, which is higher than most of the Lower Mainland but much lower than Interior and Northern B.C. regions.

gwood@glaciermedia.ca