Two weeks ago, the Straight emailed all Vancouver school trustees to ask if any of them would bring forward a motion to reinstate a mandatory mask mandate.
The first trustee to respond this past weekend was OneCity Vancouver's Jennifer Reddy. She did not pledge to bring forward a motion to bring back an indoor mask mandate to Vancouver schools.
Instead, she stated that she's "requested a full report from the School Medical Officer on the efficacy of continued mask use, the number and type of accommodations currently being made for immunocompromised students and staff, and an assessment of the rates of COVID in Vancouver schools".
Reddy did not explain how the school medical officer, Dr. Meena Dewar, would be able to assess rates of COVID-19 when the capacity of testing was vastly exceeded during the Omicron wave. The province has no idea how many people have COVID-19 at any given time.
"As you are aware, since our mask mandate was an extension of the PHO there is no longer a mandate to extend," Reddy wrote. "I will continue to canvass families and staff on protective measures and advocate for accommodations for students to continue their learning. In addition, I am encouraging folks to contact their MLA to ask the Ministry of Education to respond to these concerns and provide the support needed."
Under the School Act, a school medical officer's role is to "examine or cause examinations to be made as to the general health of students of the schools in the District". School medical officers are appointed by Health Minister Adrian Dix.
Today (March 28) marks the end of a mandatory mask mandate in the Vancouver school district.
On March 10, the provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, announced the cancellation of the indoor mask mandate in schools at the end of Spring Break. This came on the same day that the U.S. National Institutes of Health released the results of a large study on mask mandates in schools in nine states.
According to this study, headed by two Duke University medical researchers and physicians, districts with mandatory mask mandates had 72 percent fewer in-school transmissions of COVID-19 during the Delta variant surge in comparison with districts that had mask-optional policies.
Henry and Vancouver Coastal Health chief medical officer Dr. Patricia Daly have consistently maintained that school-based transmission of COVID-19 is extremely low. The U.S. study, on the other hand, suggested that approximately 10 percent of students and school staff contracted their COVID-19 in schools.
The University of British Columbia has retained its indoor mask mandate. The UVic senate has asked the UVic president and board of governors to reinstate an indoor mask mandate.
There appears to be no barrier in the way of school districts also reinstating indoor mask mandates. That's because as employers, they can take steps that they believe are in the best interest of their employees' health.
"School boards can set dress codes," former school superintendent Doug Player tweeted on March 14. "They can invoke a mask mandate."
Trustees ignored Safe Schools Coalition B.C. recommendations
Reddy's request for a full report from the Vancouver School District's school medical officer comes four months after the Safe Schools Coalition B.C. wrote a letter to all VSB trustees, the superintendent, and the deputy superintendent detailing the horrors of COVID-19 for a subset of those who get infected.
The letter requested "additional mitigation measures" to protect kids from COVID-19 infections in schools, listing several examples in an attachment. It was signed by parents, educators, physicians, and epidemiology professors.
The group says it received no reply.
The Safe Schools Coalition B.C. letter noted that there was a one percent hospitalization rate among pediatric cases of COVID-19—and possibly higher for the Delta variant—and that the rate of Long COVID was seven to 14 percent.
"While BC does not track pediatric long COVID, there is robust international data from the UK and Israel," the Safe Schools Coalition B.C. stated. "Long COVID is a syndrome in which the pathophysiology is poorly understood and the treatment is unknown. Studies in adults have demonstrated that even mild infection can cause vascular damage and organ damage including loss of kidney function, loss of grey matter as well as cognitive deficits."
Each one of these statements was footnoted with a reference to a scientific paper.
The attachment to the letter pointed out that parents have been denied permission to donate HEPA filters to clean the air in classrooms. In addition, it stated, parents found that principals "have no idea of what's in place" to clean the air when they've been asked.
"The Communicable Disease Plan makes no mention of measurable objectives, not even ASHRAE [America Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers) COVID-19 directive, just general language about opening windows," the letter noted.
The Safe Schools Coalition B.C. letter pointed out that airborne transmission is the dominant route for the spread of COVID-19. This is also the view of Dr. Alondra Nelson, head of the White House Office of Science and Technology.
However, this idea has not been articulated by Dix, Henry, and Daly. This has led many of their critics to claim:
a) Dix, Henry, and Daly don't believe that airborne transmission is the dominant route for the spread COVID-19, notwithstanding what aerosol scientists and the White House's top science and technology officer have said about this issue;
b) Dix, Henry, and Daly don't want to publicly admit that airborne transmission is the dominant route for the spread of COVID-19 for fear of losing face;
c) Dix, Henry, and Daly don't want to publicly admit that airborne transmission is the dominant route for the spread of COVID-19 because they don't want to spend public money on mitigation efforts to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in schools.