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

Creston RCMP detachment. Photo: Aaron Hemens
Anti-mask sentiment, physical and sexual assault cases on the rise: Creston RCMP

Calls for service is expected to reach 3,600 by the end of the year, compared to 3,349 in 2019

Regional and local governments will eventually be required by the province to follow the BC Energy Step Code, which aims to reduce greenhouse gases from buildings. Some governments, now including the RDCK, have decided to phase it in voluntarily ahead of provincial deadlines. File photo
VIDEO: RDCK adopts Step 1 of provincial home energy efficiency plan

New buildings must comply with first level of the BC Energy Step Code

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Interior Health reports 70 new cases overnight

The total number of cases in the region is now at 1,426

An employee of the Adventure Hotel was taken to hospital on Nov. 20 after she confronted a customer of Empire Coffee about not wearing a mask. File photo.
Nelson hotel employee suffers heart attack after being assaulted in anti-mask incident

An accountant at the Adventure Hotel is in hospital in Kelowna

RCMP pictured at a motor vehicle incident during snowy conditions. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
Fruitvale woman charged with impaired driving in 2019 crash that killed 2 teens

A 15-year-old boy and 18-year-old woman, both from Fruitvale, died in the crash that sent the vehicle into the river

A man wearing a face mask to help curb the spread of COVID-19 walks in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020. The use of masks is mandatory in indoor public and retail spaces in the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. records deadliest day of pandemic with 13 deaths, 738 new COVID-19 cases

Number of people in hospital is nearing 300, while total cases near 30,000

FILE – A paramedic holds a test tube containing a blood sample during an antibody testing program at the Hollymore Ambulance Hub, in Birmingham, England, on Friday, June 5, 2020. (Simon Dawson/Pool via AP)
Want to know if you’ve had COVID-19? LifeLabs is offering an antibody test

Test costs $75 and is available in B.C. and Ontario

The grey region of this chart shows the growth of untraced infection, due to lack of information on potential sources. With added staff and reorganization, the gap is stabilized, Dr. Bonnie Henry says. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C. adjusts COVID-19 tracing to keep up with surging cases

People now notified of test results by text message

People wear face masks as they pose next to a Christmas display in Montreal, Sunday, November 22, 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
How to tell family their Christmas gathering is too risky and you’re not going

Dr. Hurst says it’s best to frame the conversation from a place of care, stressing safety precautions.

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Keanu Reeves in “The Matrix.”
Free ‘Hollywood Suite’ movies in December include ‘Keanussance’ titles starring Keanu Reeves

Also featured is the Israeli-made ‘Valley of Tears,’ a 10-part war drama

FILE - This May 4, 2020, file photo provided by the University of Maryland School of Medicine, shows the first patient enrolled in Pfizer's COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine clinical trial at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore.  Pfizer announced Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020, more results in its ongoing coronavirus vaccine study that suggest the shots are 95% effective a month after the first dose. (Courtesy of University of Maryland School of Medicine via AP, File)
VIDEO: B.C. planning for the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in the first weeks of 2021

The question of who will get the vaccine first relies on Canada’s ethical framework

Most Read