Brandon School Division will now require students to mask up outdoors if and when more than two metres of physical distancing is not possible.
The division announced the change in a letter issued to parents late Friday afternoon. Previously, outdoor masking had been only a suggestion.
Supt. Mathew Gustafson explained in the letter that they made the change — from suggested to required — out of concern for children’s health and safety.
Additionally, because mask use can’t be maintained when having snacks or eating lunch, schools are now creating routines that provide greater physical distancing when eating, even if only for short periods of time.
"These are younger children, and they don’t always maintain the two-metre spacing," Gustafson said when reached by the Sun on Friday. "We noticed the [upward] trends in cases and we’ve been working with public health to keep our students safe."
In the letter, the division maintained that most COVID-19 cases are acquired in the community and not at school. Students represent 84 per cent of COVID-19 cases in schools.
Information provided within the letter stated there have been 53 COVID-19 exposures in 13 of 24 schools (0.6 per cent of the student population in 54 per cent of the schools) within the division since September, with high-school students representing nine per cent of cases and students in kindergarten to Grade 8 accounting for 91 per cent — owing to the fact that most kids in the latter cohort haven’t been eligible for vaccination.
Seventy-seven per cent of the student cases have involved kids under the age of 12.
Whenever there is an exposure, the division meets with the school principal to implement contact tracing and other measures. When a child tests positive for COVID-19, the school is required to contact the parents of all students who may have been less than two metres from that student and they would have to isolate at home for 14 days.
In his letter, the superintendent urged parents to continue to monitor their children for symptoms of COVID-19.
"Diligence in our self-monitoring and adherence to the protective measures are our best strategies to successfully navigating this pandemic. Not attending school when symptomatic, keeping children home if another family member is positive, communicating with the school if your family experiences a community transmission or exposure are very important steps in keeping our schools safe," he said.
"Introduction of vaccinations to high school-aged children corresponded with a significant decrease in high school-aged cases. The anticipated access to vaccinations for students aged five-11 provides an opportunity for an additional layer of protection."
» The Brandon Sun