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 laboratory technician holds a dose of a COVID-19 novel coronavirus vaccine candidate that’s ready for trial on monkeys at the National Primate Research Center of Thailand. (Mladen Antonov - AFP)
Interior Health reports 66 new COVID-19 infections

570 cases are active; 18 in hospital

The real estate market is brisk in the South Okanagan, with home prices increasing according to November, 2020 statistics. (Contributed)
House prices rise while supply is limited in South Okanagan

Real estate market active, according to November statistics from South Okanagan Real Estate Board

santa.
Morning Start: Santa Claus has an official pilot’s license

Your morning start for Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020

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

(Google Maps)
Osoyoos Credit Union staff member tests positive for COVID-19

The credit union made the announcement Dec. 1

An Enderby restaurant and pub was shut down Sunday afternoon, Nov. 29, 2020 as a precaution after a guest reportedly tested positive for COVID-19. (Howard Johnson photo)
North Okanagan pub reopens after COVID-19 scare

After a guest reportedly tested positive for the virus, staff test results came back negative

Alix Longland
Trauma resources ready for North Okanagan refugees

Family Resource Centre working with UBCO social work grad to reach out to local refugees

Elkhart Gas Station, located on Highway 97C about 60 kilometres west of Peachland, opened in November 2020. (Google maps)
The Okanagan Connector now has a gas station

The highway previously ran for over 117 kilometres without a place to fuel up

The Hughes’ Grinch was stolen from their front yard Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2020. The Santa suit the Grinch is wearing is 50 years old and has sentimental value. It was once worn by April Hughes’ dad. (Hughes photo)
Grinch stolen from Penticton home is ‘irreplaceable’

The Hughes have had a Christmas display for 25 years on Grandy Avenue in Penticton

Midway RCMP’s Cpl. Phil Peters spoke at Greenwood’s city council meeting Monday, Nov. 23. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
B.C. Mountie builds fire to warm suspect with hypothermia prior to rescue

Cpl. Phil Peters said the civilian helped police track, apprehend and eventually rescue the suspect

Premier John Horgan leaves the podium following his first press conference of the year as he comments on various questions from the media in the Press Gallery at B.C. Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Monday, January 13, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Revelstoke COVID-19 cluster linked to non-essential travel: Horgan

There have been 46 cases of COVID-19 in the community

Students at Lavington Elementary crammed a car full of non-perishables for those in the community facing food insecurity. Spearheaded by teacher January Peebles (left), the donations were picked up by Give LUCK founder Myrika Godard, who works to connect donors with donees in the North Okanagan. (Give LUCK photo)

Most Read