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Good morning. Wendy Cox in Vancouver this morning.

Depending on which side of the issue you might find yourself, the workplace injury data released by the B.C. Teachers Federation on Tuesday either bolster the union’s argument for requiring elementary students to wear masks at their desks, or underline some of the province’s reasoning for not recommending it.

The numbers from WorkSafe BC show that among 98 claims submitted by elementary school and kindergarten teachers, 88 have been allowed. For secondary school teachers, 35 claims were made and 26 were approved.

The BCTF maintains this data show two things: that teachers are getting sick from working in schools and that elementary teachers whose students aren’t required to wear masks are at more risk than high school teachers whose students are.

British Columbia has been out of step with other provinces on masks in schools. It wasn’t until the beginning of February that the province required middle school and high school students to wear them in class. Previously, the requirement was only that students wear them in common areas.

The Alberta government requires masks in Grades 4-12 when students cannot physically distance. However, some of the province’s largest school boards have gone further by requiring masks for all grades and in some cases while students are seated at their desks during class. Masks are also required for all students in class in Ontario and Quebec.

B.C. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has said repeatedly that there is little transmission of the virus in schools. The number of teachers who have had their claims approved would appear to bear that out: Of 35,149 teachers, 114 have made a successful workers compensation claim as a result of contracting the virus at school. About 60 per cent of B.C.’s teachers work in the elementary grades.

The ministry said in an e-mail Tuesday while there are school exposures, transmission rates inside schools remain low.

“This tells us our guidelines are working,” the statement said.

But BCTF president Teri Mooring said in an interview the data show that elementary school teachers remain at unacceptable risk, especially with case counts that remain stubbornly high. She said the WorkSafeBC data reflect only part of the picture because not all teachers will make a claim with the agency.

She is calling on the Minister of Education to expand the mask mandate to the elementary grades. Dr. Henry has said she provides guidance to the policy makers, but ultimately, it’s the job of policy makers to implement the guidelines around masks in schools.

“They are taking their guidance from the provincial health office but they certainly have the ability to do that; for whatever reason, they’re refusing to,” Ms. Mooring said.

Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside said at the provincial legislature Tuesday that she has not reviewed the WorkSafe data yet and is planning to do so.

Last week, schools in Surrey brought in enhanced measures as the district has experienced more school-based exposures than any other in the province. A broader mask mandate in elementary schools is not among them.

Matthew Westphal, president of the Surrey Teachers Association, said that it’s worth noting that the two schools in the Surrey School District that closed because of outbreaks were both elementary schools.

“Elementary schools lack a basic layer of protection that is present in secondary schools, and we have not heard the Public Health Office provide a scientific explanation for why it is not following an approach to masks that has been implemented by public health officials in other Canadian jurisdictions,” he said.

In a statement later Tuesday, the Ministry of Education said the decision to exempt young students from wearing masks in class is based on guidance from Dr. Henry’s office, noting masks are difficult for young students to put on and off and to wear all day, prompting them to touch their faces and possibly transmit the virus. Supervising the wearing of masks may become too time consuming for teachers, the ministry said.