Students aged 10 and older will be asked to wear non-medical masks at school next week, according to new guidelines from the territory’s chief medical officer.
“I make this recommendation based on emerging evidence that older children may be just as likely to transmit COVID-19 as adults,” Dr.
Brendan Hanley said Wednesday afternoon.
“I hope this additional step will provide further assurances to parents and to staff that we are doing our utmost to keep students and staff safe from COVID-19.”
Hanley provided some new guidelines for schools with Education Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee during the latest COVID-19 update. Whitehorse students will return to school next Thursday.
Schools will provide masks to students and staff, and each school’s operational plan will make individual recommendations on where to wear masks.
Students can expect to wear masks on school buses and in hallways, but not in classrooms where seats are safely spaced, Hanley said.
The recommendation matches the newly-published federal guidelines for mask-wearing in schools.
Hanley said masks in schools doesn’t mean a community-wide mask order is imminent.
“I am still not in favour of making masks mandatory for all citizens,” Hanley said.
“We should remind ourselves that mask usage is an additional tool and should never replace the need for safe spacing in either outdoor or indoor environments.”
Parents should also prepare to keep their children home from school if they become even mildly sick, Hanley said.
School operational plans were posted to school websites and sent out to families on Wednesday. They include the specific measures each
school will have in place to keep students safe.
Common practices across schools will be physical distancing, limiting mixing students and staff, frequent washing and sanitizing and staying home while sick, McPhee said.
Students also received their schedules on Wednesday. Grades 10 to 12 students will be attending half-day classes.
“I want to reassure parents this does not mean students will only be learning half of the time,” McPhee said.
Grades 10 to 12 students will be “carefully monitored” and supported through virtual and in-person teacher-supervised study halls.
“We will adapt as necessary to make sure all students are supported in their learning,” McPhee said.
Guidelines for school buses were also reviewed on Wednesday afternoon.
Students taking the school bus this year will be assigned to a specific bus seat and provided with a bus pass noting their bus number. There will be two students per seat, with fewer students on each bus than typical.
McPhee said families who can walk, cycle, drive or carpool to school are encouraged to do so. High school students are encouraged to take
public transit rather than the school bus, if possible.
Students are eligible for school bus service if they live more than 3.2 kilometres from their school and are attending the school in their
All eligible students will be provided with bus service, McPhee said.
Students outside the eligibility requirements will be prioritized based on their grade level, with kindergarten to Grade 3 students being of higher priority than older students.
Families will be directly notified if they can be accommodated on the school bus.
“Planning for this school year has been challenging and different than other years; it has taken a tremendous amount of effort from individuals across the territory,” McPhee said.
“It takes patience, kindness and mutual support to come together as a community and overcome the challenges that COVID-19 brings.”
A Community Wellbeing Survey is also underway and open to all Yukon residents. It has garnered 2,300 responses so far, and will remain open through Sept. 6.
The purpose of the survey is to measure the impacts of COVID-19 on the well-being of Yukoners.