VICTORIA -- The B.C. government will be hiring 500 more public health staff members to help support contact tracing efforts amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

B.C. Premier John Horgan made the announcement Wednesday alongside provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix.

The premier and health officials stressed that contact tracing is critical for controlling the spread of COVID-19, largely by breaking chains of transmission.

“The new people will be joining the teams that we have and will be supporting surge capacity with public health teams across the province,” said Henry.

Horgan added that the new positions will be temporary, but will be in place throughout at least the fall.

The premier said that he expects most of the positions will be filled by “retired nurses and other health care professionals, as well as recent graduates.”

B.C.’s top doctor added that contract tracing efforts go beyond simply notifying someone that they may have been exposed to COVID-19.

Henry says that it is important for the health-care system to support people who are required to self-isolate, so that they are able to strictly remain at home for 14 consecutive days.

The provincial health officer added that the new contact tracing staff were needed, as many current contract tracers also have other responsibilities in the health-care system.

B.C.’s premier also spoke to concerns about the province’s school restart plan.

He said both health officials and education representatives have been “working diligently to know that we have a safe restart to the school system.”

He added that individual school districts were working on customized school restart plans, as “one size does not fit all.” However, he said the province was committed to providing a framework for all schools to follow this fall.

As B.C. continues to see a rise in daily COVID-19 cases, B.C.’s top doctor is holding fast to not requiring masks while out in public.

Henry said that masks are just one layer of protection against COVID-19, alongside other measures like physical distancing and staying home if feeling unwell.

She added that many recent COVID-19 cases have been linked to situations where masks likely would not have been worn.

“Where we’re seeing transmission are events where people would not wear masks, like parties,” she said.

Horgan added that the B.C. government was continuing to develop COVID-19 education campaigns that target younger British Columbians.

“This is a call out to Deadpool right now, Ryan Reynolds. Get in touch with us, my number’s on the internet,” he said. “Seth Rogen is an important person as well. The two of you alone could help us quite a bit.”

Horgan said that the B.C. government was looking to enlist the help of “important British Columbians and important Canadians” to help promote information on COVID-19 and health measures that can help limit the spread of the virus.