Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Messaging on Masking brings familiar themes from Doctor Bonnie Henry and a call for personal responsibility

What has become an ongoing debate over the use of masks and their effectiveness in matters of COVID-19 has spurred the Provincial Health Officer Doctor Bonnie Henry to deliver another statement of note on the topic. 

Taking to the pages of the Provincial news site on Monday to highlight the use of masks as one of a number of protection actions.

Her commentary comes with a renewed call from a number of sectors for the province to impose a full mask requirement for all public indoor spaces and other areas that may be a risk to the spread of COVID.

Towards  the prospect of mask Mandate, Doctor Henry outlines the following.

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.

Part of her review on the theme, also notes that much of the current surge in cases is coming from areas where people may not be wearing a mask anyways and how the use of masks is included in part of the COVID safety plans in place by businesses and workplaces.

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. 

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.

The latest guidance falls short of a full declaration that masks must be worn at all times, tempered instead with the advice that wearing one makes for a significant part of the layers of protection.

They include: include maintaining a safe distance from others, cleaning our hands and staying home if we get sick. 

As part of her review the Public Health Officer notes how 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. 

The Doctor also notes how an order will never replace a personal commitment, calling on the residents of the province to take up the responsibility on their own to work towards reducing the spread of the virus.

For more notes on the provincial response to COVID-19 see our archive page here, which includes material from the BC CDC as well as the daily updates from Dr. Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix.

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