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

Staff from the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, passersby, RCMP and Nanaimo Fire Rescue carried a sick 300-kilogram steller sea lion up the steep bluff at Invermere Beach in north Nanaimo in an attempt to save the animal’s life Thursday. (Photo courtesy Marine Mammal Rescue Centre)
300-kilogram sea lion muscled up from the beach in rescue attempt in Nanaimo

Animal dies in spite of efforts of marine mammal rescue team, emergency personnel and bystanders

A crossover utility vehicle smashed through the front of a business on Bowen Road on Friday evening. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
Vehicle smashes all the way into business on Nanaimo’s Bowen Road

No serious injuries reported after incident at Venue Financial Centres

RCMP say a woman turned herself in to police after hitting a pedestrian and fleeing the scene of the accident in downtown Nanaimo on Friday morning. (File photo)
Driver flees, then turns herself in after hitting pedestrian in downtown Nanaimo

Nanaimo RCMP say woman was struck in marked crosswalk after driver ran red light

Police in Nanaimo found multiple sites with tags they allege were made by three men arrested for mischief in Maffeo Sutton Park on Feb. 15. (Photo submitted)
Graffiti taggers caught in Nanaimo with paint on their hands

Three suspects arrested at Maffeo Sutton Park last week

Uplands Park Elementary School. (News Bulletin file)
COVID-19 cases reported at Uplands Park, McGirr, Dover Bay schools

Contact tracing completed by Island Health, says Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools

A crossover utility vehicle smashed through the front of a business on Bowen Road on Friday evening. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
Vehicle smashes all the way into business on Nanaimo’s Bowen Road

No serious injuries reported after incident at Venue Financial Centres

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson presents bill to delay B.C.’s budget as late as April 30, and allow further spending before that, B.C. legislature, Dec. 8, 2020. (Hansard TV)
How big is B.C.’s COVID-19 deficit? We’ll find out April 20

More borrowing expected as pandemic enters second year

Several BC Ferries sailings are cancelled Friday due to adverse weather. (Black Press Media File)
All B.C. Ferries sailings cancelled due to winds, adverse weather

Adverse weather causes cancellations across several BC Ferries routes

Wayne Allen's graduation photo from Chemainus Secondary School. (Photo submitted)
Brother charged with murder in Vancouver Island teenager’s Ontario death

Jesse James Allen stands accused in the death of Wayne Allen, a 2020 Chemainus Secondary grad

A 50-year-old man was stabbed in an altercation that started with a disagreement about physical distancing. (File photo)
Argument about physical distancing leads to stabbing in Nanaimo

Suspect arrested on Gabriola Island an hour after incident Wednesday, Feb. 24

British Columbia provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry arrives to view the Murals of Gratitude exhibition in Vancouver, on Friday, July 3, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Death threats mount against Dr. Bonnie Henry, sparking condemnation from Horgan, Dix

Henry has become a staple on televisions in homes across British Columbia since January 2020

Gina Adams as she works on her latest piece titled ‘Undying Love’. (Submitted photo)
‘Toothless’ the kitty inspires B.C. wood carver to break out the chainsaw

Inspired by plight of a toothless cat, Gina Adams offers proceeds from her artwork to help animals

The first of 11 Dash 8 Q400 aircraft's have arrived in Abbotsford. Conair Group Inc. will soon transform them into firefighting airtankers. (Submitted)
Abbotsford’s Conair begins airtanker transformation

Aerial firefighting company creating Q400AT airtanker in advance of local forest fire season

Nanaimo-raised singer Allison Crowe with director Zack Snyder on the set of ‘Man of Steel’ in 2011. Crowe performs a cover of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah in the upcoming director’s cut of ‘Justice League.’ (Photo courtesy Clay Enos)
Nanaimo-raised singer records song for upcoming ‘Justice League’ film

Allison Crowe’s rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah closes out the movie

Most Read