Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry views the Murals of Gratitude exhibition in Vancouver’s Gastown, July 5, 2020. (The Canadian Press)

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry views the Murals of Gratitude exhibition in Vancouver’s Gastown, July 5, 2020. (The Canadian Press)

GUEST COLUMN: COVID-19 masks mandatory in B.C., but not everywhere

Orders require them where necessary, Provincial Health Officer says

By Dr. Bonnie Henry

VICTORIA – British Columbians have been nimble in adapting their individual actions to slow the spread of COVID-19 in our communities over the last 10 months, and it has had a big impact.

Our actions have helped keep our hospitals, schools and workplaces open – and protect the ones we love.

Such essential actions include maintaining a safe distance from others, cleaning our hands and staying home if we get sick. Using masks appropriately is another important example of an individual act that results in a collective good. Each of these is a layer of protection to guard against a virus that never rests.

Some people are asking when we will see masks mandated in B.C. The answer is that they already are. The mandate to use masks appropriately is a cornerstone of businesses’ and organizations’ COVID-19 safety plans, and is embedded in our health-care facilities’ operational policies and restart protocols in other public institutions.

Despite how it might appear when we watch the news or go on social media, research shows that most of us in B.C. are doing the right things most of the time. Ordering universal mask use in all situations creates unnecessary challenges with enforcement and stigmatization. We need only look at the COVID-19 transmission rates in other jurisdictions that have tried using such orders to see what little benefit these orders by themselves have served. We also know that when orders and fines are in place, it is racialized people and those living in poverty or homeless who are most often targeted.

Each day, we are continuing to learn more about the virus and how it spreads. Right now, we are seeing rapid transmission in social gatherings where masks would not be worn anyway, in certain workplaces and risky indoor settings, like group fitness activities. Provincial health officer orders are always a last resort and we have used them carefully to address these recent trends.

RELATED: No ‘mask mandate’ as B.C. COVID-19 hits new highs

RELATED: Influenza in Canada ‘exceptionally low’ so far

The orders we have in place now complement our clear and expressed expectation that people will wear masks in indoor public places like shopping malls, stores, on ferries and transit.

Our orders also mandate that businesses and workplaces must have COVID-19 safety plans in place. These should include mask wearing, in addition to barriers, reduced numbers of people in spaces, screening of workers and the public and availability of hand cleaning and sanitation. Staff and customers must abide by these plans and businesses must offer virtual, online or contactless alternatives to customers who cannot wear a mask. COVID-19 safety plans are enforceable and something businesses and workplaces now plan for and have in place, in accordance with our orders.

We know that people want to do the right thing when they understand the reasons behind our thinking and have the tools they need to do what is asked of them. Mask use is important, and we need everyone to have the same understanding of our expectations. Wearing a mask will never eliminate all risks, but it is a significant part of the layers of protection that can help protect us, our loved ones and our community. Now more than ever, it is a measure we must all take.

An order can never replace our personal commitment. We need to be responsible for our own actions – that is how we all pull together. I wear a mask, and I expect each of you who can to wear one too.

Dr. Bonnie Henry is provincial health officer for British Columbia.

BC legislatureCoronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A woman wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 uses walking sticks while walking up a hill, in New Westminster, B.C., on Sunday, November 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Interior Health reports 83 more COVID-19 infections overnight

46 cases are now associated with a COVID-19 community cluster in Revelstoke

Slocan Valley communities struggling with the need for high-speed internet should consider Kaslo’s model, according to the Kaslo infoNet Society. Photo: Black Press
Follow Kaslo’s lead for fibre service, says proponent

Tim Ryan of Kaslo infoNet Society says bringing high-speed internet to rural homes is possible

Glacier Gymnastics head coach Sandra Long says she doesn’t understand why her sport is currently shut down while others are allowed to operate. Photo: Tyler Harper
‘It is bewildering’: Nelson sports leaders call out provincial shut down

Indoor group classes for activities such as gymnastics and dance are on hold

A man wearing a face mask to prevent the spread of COVID-19 walks past a mural in Vancouver on Monday, Nov. 30, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marissa Tiel
212 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health over the weekend

A total of 490 cases remain active; 15 in hospital

From the left: Grand Forks sculptor David Seven Deers, Rotary Club President Grant Hill and Shinning Raven Woman Council member Regina Burrows pose for The Gazette at Seven Deers’ 9th Street studio Friday, Nov. 27. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Grand Forks Rotarians raise money for Shining Raven Woman project

President Grant Hill said the Rotary Club “had to be a part of it”

Interior Health said its new toll-free line will help people connect to health-care services. (File)
Interior Health expands toll-free line to improve access to community care

By calling1-800-707-8550, people can be connected to several health-care services

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
B.C. researchers launch study to test kids, young adults for COVID-19 antibodies

Kids and youth can often be asymptomatic carriers of the novel coronavirus

A sign is seen this past summer outside the Yunesit’in Government office west of Williams Lake reminding visitors and members to stay safe amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Rebecca Dyok photo)
B.C. First Nation leaders await privacy commissioner decision on COVID-19 information

Release of life-saving data cannot wait, says coalition of First Nations

MLA Jennifer Whiteside is B.C.’s new minister of education. She is speaking out against Chilliwack school trustee Barry Neufeld and asking him to resign. (Black Press)
New education minister calls on Chilliwack trustee to resign

Whiteside echoes former minister’s promise to look at options to remove Barry Neufeld

Peter Beckett. ~ File photo
Supreme Court of Canada to decide if it will hear appeal in 2010 wife murder trial

Peter Beckett has stood trial twice for murder in connection with the death of his wife, Laura Letts-Beckett

Tabor Home in Abbotsford. (Ben Lypka/Abbotsford News)
B.C.’s largest COVID-19 care-home outbreak records 19 deaths, 147 cases

Tabor Home in Abbotsford has been battling outbreak since Nov. 4

Most Read