B.C. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix have announced that mandatory masking is returning to the province’s health-care facilities as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise.
Thursday’s news confirms details provided in a leaked government memo obtained by CBC a day earlier, which stated that “continuous masking by health-care workers, visitors, contractors and volunteers in all patient, client and resident care areas” will start Oct. 3.
Henry said the rules will apply to facilities run by provincial health authorities, as well as long-term care homes.
However, masks will not be required for all patients and long-term care residents. The leaked memo states that “patients, clients and residents will mask when directed by a health-care worker or based on personal choice.”
Henry told reporters that masks will not be mandated for patients and residents for “a whole bunch of reasons,” and that requirements will depend on the individual’s health condition.
“Partly, it’s because residents of long-term care, that’s their home,” she said. “If you come in with a respiratory infection, you’ll be asked to put on a mask for sure.”
Asked how the new rules will be enforced, Henry said education and communication would be prioritized over kicking people out of health-care facilities.
“I really hope it doesn’t come to that,” she said, but added, “We do have security if needed.”
‘Everybody masking is ideal’
There has been speculation for weeks whether the province would reintroduce some kind of requirement for wearing masks to try to limit the spread of respiratory diseases such as COVID-19, which have become more widespread in late summer and early fall.
In April, the province ended its universal mask mandate in health-care settings, which was put in place amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Retired emergency physician Dr. Lyne Filiatrault, a member of Protect Our Province, a group advocating for evidence-based interventions around COVID-19, is calling on the province to mandate mask-wearing for everyone in health-care settings.
She says leaving it open to “personal choice” could put vulnerable people at risk.
“So, if you’re a patient and you’re going to the emergency department and you make it a personal choice not to mask, who’s going to tell you, ‘hey there’s a lot of vulnerable patients in the this waiting room, wear a mask?'” Filiatrault said.
“Everybody masking is ideal because it decreases the amount of virus in the air that we share.”
The memo reads “Pts, clients, & residents will mask when directed by a health care worker or based on personal choice.” Which really isn’t much different from what we have now & will still lead to people refusing to 😷 when asked. As has been happening since mandates were dropped <a href=”https://t.co/Q2inb1yHCo”>https://t.co/Q2inb1yHCo</a>
The leadership of the B.C. Green Party said they shared Filiatrault’s concerns, and called for a universal mask mandate in health-care settings.
“A partial mandate will not protect vulnerable hospitalized patients,” deputy Green leader Dr. Sanjiv Gandhi said in a news release.
Data from the B.C. Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) shows COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths all increased during the four-week period from Aug. 20 to Sept. 16.
Confirmed cases nearly doubled over that time, from 366 in the first week to 628 in the final week. There were also 178 COVID hospitalizations reported in the final week. Deaths are also on the rise, with 10 reported in the first week to 22 in the last week.