'We are hoping for mandatory masking': B.C. doctors and dentists call for face-covering policy
VANCOUVER -- As COVID-19 cases spike across British Columbia, more than 80 doctors and dentists are pushing the provincial government to implement a mandatory mask policy.
“It’s getting harder to physically distance,” said Dr. Anna Wolak, who signed the petition.
The group wrote a letter to the province outlining a plan with the acronym, ACT. It stands for “All indoor spaces outside the home (such as hospitals, schools, shops and businesses), Crowds (anywhere that is difficult to distance from others), and Transit (public transportation).”
The letter highlights the signers’ desire not to enforce with penalties, but rather to use education, recognizing that there would need to be some exceptions to a mask mandate, such as for those with medical contraindications, disabilities and young children.
“To prevent the spread, we do need the physical distancing, the hand hygiene and the masking,” said Wolak.
Vancouverite Bradley Klaver agrees it’s time for a mandatory mask policy. Without one, he says, people still won’t wear them.
“I’ve been frustrated, I’ve seen other places really getting on board and implementing a mask policy,” he said.
He added that he thinks it’s time provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry “adopts a mask policy and really takes a firmer position on mask-wearing.”
Klaver said at grocery stores most people still aren’t wearing masks, and they won’t “unless they feel everyone’s doing it.”
According to an Angus Reid Institute poll in July, 55 per cent of Canadians wear a mask most of the time in public, but 74 per cent said they’d be fine with a mandatory mask policy if it were implemented in their community.
Wolak said it’s hard to physically distance with so many people returning to work.
“It’s harder on transit, for example,” she said. “You can’t open the windows and you’re standing shoulder-to-shoulder to each other.”
Henry hinted during Tuesday’s news conference that a mask-required policy on transit may be in the works. She said her office has been working with TransLink and looking at their programs.
“I would certainly encourage it,” she said Tuesday.
In an emailed statement, TransLink spokesperson Jill Drews said the transit agency welcomes Henry’s comments in support of a mask mandate.
“TransLink has been discussing with Dr. Henry’s office what a mandatory face covering policy could look like on our system,” Drews said. “We won’t pre-empt the outcome of those discussions.”
In terms of a mask mandate at the provincial level, Health Minister Adrian Dix said Wednesday he’s not ruling anything out.
“We don’t believe, Dr. Henry doesn’t believe, public health doesn’t believe, that the nature and amount of transmission in B.C. requires a public health rule – a public mask rule – which would inevitably require many exceptions,” said Dix.
He listed places such as restaurants as a prime example of a place that couldn’t have a mandated mask policy because people need to be able to eat.
He went on to say the province would “follow the evidence and make what we think (are) the right decisions. And if we think we need to change those decisions at some point based on new evidence then we’ll do that.”
Wolak told CTV News Vancouver the science shows that wearing a mask protects the public. She said it’s all about trapping your droplets in the mask.
“Ultimately, what we do want is to protect those droplets from flying around,” she said.
The letter to the province suggests exempting “young children” from a potential mask mandate, but doesn’t outline a specific age at which the exemption would end.
“Age two and under cannot wear masks because it’s a choking risk,” said Wolak.
But, kids aged 10 and older “act as if they are adults in terms of their transmission” she said.
“We have a month before school starts,” she said. “Kids model what they see.”
Wolak used the example that some children may fight having to wear shoes, but if the entire community is doing so, they’re more likely to mimic that.
To create that type of environment, the letter requests a mandatory mask mandate now.
“British Columbians have sacrificed so much to flatten the curve, and we have been successful,” the letter reads. “We are now at an important juncture. We ask that you not let our sacrifices go to waste.”
The full text of the letter is embedded below.