The province says it’s not considering reintroducing a mask mandate, despite calls from four COVID-focused groups and an increase in respiratory illnesses.
In an open letter published Tuesday (Nov. 15), Protect our Province BC, Safe Schools Coalition BC, BC School Covid Tracker, and Masks 4 East Van asked incoming premier David Eby, Health Minister Adrian Dix and Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside to once again mandate masks in all public spaces, and launch an education campaign to teach people about are their importance.
“With masking, fewer British Columbians will get sick, helping to ‘flatten the curve,’ and reduce the impact on our already strained hospitals and overburdened health-care staff,” the letter reads.
The authors point to widespread research that shows masks are a proven way of reducing the spread of respiratory viruses, such as COVID-19 and influenza, from one person to another. It’s research the province itself relied on while requiring masking through the height of the pandemic and encouraging masking since the mandate ended on June 30.
Still, the Ministry of Health said Tuesday, things aren’t bad enough yet for it to bring back a mandate.
“Even though we are seeing more respiratory illness circulating, we are not yet experiencing a COVID-19/influenza/RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) surge in hospitalizations,” a spokesperson told Black Press Media in an email.
According to the latest data from the BC Centre for Disease Control, on Nov. 5 about 4.66 per cent of visits to health-care practitioners were related to a respiratory illness. That’s an increase from September when about 2.7 to 3.4 per cent of cases were respiratory related, but still lower than the COVID-19 spike in January when the rate hit 7.1 per cent.
In their letter, the four groups point to Ontario, where emergency departments have been told to prepare for an extreme surge in demand and children’s hospitals have reported historic volumes of patients, as a warning sign for B.C. The group adds that if the children of health-care workers start falling ill, so will their parents.
“This means fewer health-care staff in the emergency departments, or on hospital wards, to care for sick patients, adults and children,” the letter reads.
The Ministry of Health said B.C. is fairing better than Ontario so far. It said 23.8 per cent of children’s high-acuity and pediatric ICU beds, and 31.5 per cent of neo-natal ICU beds in the province are free as of Nov. 14. Only the neo-natal ICU beds at Kelowna General Hospital are over capacity, the ministry said.
The four groups say B.C. should act now, though, before things get worse.
“Our goal should be limiting children’s learning loss by keeping students healthy and able to attend school,” the letter reads.
Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Dix are set to provide a public health update at 11 a.m. Wednesday.