Shortly after Dr. Bonnie Henry issued the order restricting socializing only to people in one’s home, a Grade 11 student asked, “Why can’t I have a couple of friends over to watch a movie, but I can sit in this classroom with 26 strangers?”
I wanted to say, “Well, in schools, we sprinkle the rooms with pixie dust and pump unicorn breath through the ventilation so we can all be safe” (which is the closest approximation that I can come to for Dr. Henry’s explanations why schools are “different”) but instead, I bit my tongue and said, “I have no idea, but I’d suggest you wear a mask as much as possible and wash your hands regularly.” Only days later, we had our third and fourth exposures at Howe Sound Secondary.
Schools, apparently, aren’t magical.
To be clear, HSS has had no transmission of the coronavirus, as far as we know. The students who have tested positive have caught it from friends and family outside of the building. But teenagers and adolescents can, and do, test positive, get sick, and shed virus. The question isn’t if we will have a transmission at HSS, but rather when will it happen and how quickly it will be caught. So far, we’ve been lucky.
Yes, schools are controlled environments insofar as the same people, more or less, are there every day. Some upgraded safety measures have also been put in place including staggered breaks and mandatory mask-wearing in high-traffic areas. But within the classroom, there’s no requirement to wear masks, so students and teachers can use them at their discretion.
Now that the public health officer has done an about-face and decided that mask-wearing indoors is, in fact, an important health measure, I have to ask the obvious question: why not in school? Why not in my classroom?
Does anyone else see the irony that on the same day that The Squamish Chief ran Dr. Henry’s op-ed piece about why mask-wearing shouldn’t be mandated, mask-wearing was mandated? I’m losing my faith in the good doctor’s judgment. This kind of “gas lighting” makes me insane, and her repeated caveat, “except in schools,” is, similarily, driving me crazy.
Although my classroom is indoors and a workspace and tightly packed, it’s a school so it’s exempt. So I walk in every day, knock on wood, throw some salt over my shoulder, spin around three times, and spit. Remember that there’s magic in this place, I think to myself, then I put on my mask and hope to God she’s right.
Paul Demers is a long-time Squamish local and high school teacher.