VICTORIA -- Teachers in the Greater Victoria area are welcoming new mandatory mask protocols for schools announced Thursday, saying the change was long overdue.

All B.C. middle and secondary students and K-12 staff are now required to wear non-medical masks in indoor areas, including when they are with their learning group.

The province made the announcement Thursday at a press conference in Victoria.

Students will only be allowed to take their masks off when they are at their seat or station in the classroom, when they are at a location where there is a barrier in place, or when they are eating or drinking.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside said students in elementary school will have the choice whether to wear a mask or not when they are indoors.

Prior to Thursday’s announcement, middle and secondary school students and all K-12 staff were required to wear masks when they were in high-traffic areas like hallways or outside of classrooms or learning groups when they could not safely distance from others.

The Greater Victoria Teachers Association has long been calling for masks to be mandatory for all students, including those in elementary school.

“I’m pleased with the increased mask mandate,” Greater Victoria Teachers Association president Winona Waldron told CTV News after the announcement.

“I think they could have gone a little further with the elementary,” she added “I think they could be saying masks are required at elementary, unless there’s a reason not to, you know, medical or behavioural, those other exceptions.”

Eric Stoehr, who teaches at Bayside Middle School in Brentwood, says the mask requirements for middle and high school won’t practically change much at schools.

“A big part of the day is when students are working at their desks, and they still won’t need to wear masks when they’re working at their desks,” said Stoehr Thursday.

But, Henry says children are less likely to get sick with the virus, and the new guidelines are in line with practices for adults at work or in public.

“These are similar approaches to the requirements that we have in offices or restaurants -- where you wear a mask when you’re moving about, but not when you’re seated,” she said.

Although the measure may be relatively modest, Laura Fulton, the principal of Sooke’s Edward Milne Community School, thinks the steps will provide peace of mind.

“I think it probably will make staff feel safe, and students and parents,” she said.

Henry had hinted earlier in the week that her team has been reviewing restrictions in schools.

Teachers’ unions across B.C. have long been asking for stricter health measures in classrooms.