Wednesday marks the first day all British Columbians once again have to mask up to enter indoor public places, as the province struggles to contain its fourth wave of COVID-19.
The order covers people aged 12 and up, and applies to retail stores, public transit, civic and government buildings, restaurants, schools and common areas of a number of other buildings.
B.C. brings back mandatory masks in public indoor spaces for entire province
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced the renewed order on Tuesday, as the province unveiled its back-to-school COVID safety plans.
Masks have been recommended, but optional, since July 1. B.C.’s seven-day average for new cases, driven by the now dominant Delta variant, topped 600 this week.
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“This is the right call. We’ve known for a while that there is some risk of transmission even if you are vaccinated, you could get the virus and pass it along,” UBC mathematical biologist and member of the independent BC COVID-19 Modelling Group Sarah Otto told CKNW, Wednesday.
“And so that’s a way into crowded environments when we have as many cases as we do right now, it’s just a way to tamp down and get control of the situation.”
Data released by the BC Centre for Disease Control this week, covering a period between Aug. 9 and Aug. 22, showed that people who were not fully vaccinated represented more than 83 per cent of new cases, and more than 85 per cent of hospitalizations.
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Henry said the order would be reassessed as the province rolls out its vaccine passport system in September and October.
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Dr. Brian Conway, director of the Vancouver Infectious Diseases Centre, said he was hopeful the order would be short-lived.
“This is really a temporary thing. It’s going to last for as long as we have this current outbreak of cases,” he said.
“We’re going to get through it by increasing the rate of vaccination, doing more sort of diagnostic testing, identifying, interrupting transmission networks and seeing where transmission is occurring, being a little bit more directive in where we apply the rules and then trying to to remove mask mandates as soon as we can.”
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Vancouver transit users expressed some frustration about the return of masks, though most said they understood why the step was necessary.
But the renewed mandate could mean more headaches for frontline workers left to enforce the policy.
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Clint Mahlman, president and CEO of London Drugs, said early reports from his stores showed that customers were following the mandate, but said there were no shortage of conflicts over the policy when it was first in place.
“Unfortunately small groups of people have chosen to take their frustrations of the pandemic, government health orders, and other beliefs out on frontline staff who have nothing to do with government orders,” he said.
“There has been violence against our staff, belittling our staff for wearing masks to protect them as customers, which is quite ironic. So we’re hoping that remains a very low percentage of the population.”
Effect of B.C. vaccination passport plan on vaccination rates
As of Tuesday, there were more than 5,300 active cases of COVID-19 in B.C., 138 of whom were in hospital and 78 of whom were in critical or intensive care.
About 75 per cent of British Columbians aged 12 and over have been fully immunized.
Full list of settings included in mask mandate:
- malls, shopping centres, coffee shops and retail and grocery stores
- liquor and drug stores
- airports, city halls, libraries, community and recreation centres
- restaurants, pubs and bars (unless seated)
- on public transportation, in a taxi or ride-sharing vehicle
- areas of office buildings where services to the public are provided
- common areas of sport and fitness centres when not engaged in physical activity
- common areas of post-secondary institutions and non-profit organizations
- inside schools for all K-12 staff, visitors and students in grades 4-12
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