Should B.C. reintroduce mask mandate? Groups pen open letter to province

The province said it was not considering reintroducing the mask mandate despite calls from four COVID-focused groups and an increase in respiratory illnesses.

exist an open letter Published Tuesday (November 15) in Protecting Our British Columbia, the BC Safe Schools Coalition, BC Schools Covid Tracker and Masks 4 East Van ask incoming Premier David Eby, Health Minister Adrian Dix and Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside are again asking all students to wear masks in public and are running an education campaign to make people aware of their importance.

“Fewer British Columbians get sick when masks are worn, helping to ‘flatten the curve’ and reduce the impact on our already strained hospitals and overwhelmed healthcare workers,” the letter reads.

The authors note that extensive research has shown that face masks are a proven method of reducing human-to-human transmission of respiratory viruses such as COVID-19 and influenza. It’s research the province itself is relying on, while requiring face coverings at the height of the pandemic and encouraging them since the mandate ended on June 30.

Still, the health ministry said on Tuesday that the situation was not serious enough to restore enforcement.

“While we are seeing more respiratory illnesses spreading, we have not yet experienced a surge in COVID-19/flu/RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) hospitalizations,” a spokesperson told Black Press Media in an email.

According to the most recent data from the BC Center for Disease Control, approximately 4.66 per cent of healthcare provider visits on Nov. 5 were related to respiratory illnesses. That’s up from September, when about 2.7% to 3.4% of cases were respiratory-related, but still below the peak of COVID-19 in January, when the rate hit 7.1%.

In their letter, the four groups point to Ontario, where emergency departments have been told to brace for extreme surges in demand and children’s hospitals reporting historic patient numbers, as warning signs for British Columbia. The group added that if healthy child-caregivers start getting sick, their parents will get sick too.

“This means fewer health care workers in emergency rooms or hospital wards to care for the sick, adults and children,” the letter reads.

So far, British Columbia is faring better than Ontario, the health ministry said. As of Nov. 14, 23.8 percent of the province’s pediatric intensive care unit and pediatric ICU beds and 31.5 percent of its neonatal ICU beds were free, it said. Only neonatal ICU beds at Kelowna General Hospital were oversubscribed, the ministry said.

The four groups say BC should act now before things get worse.

“Our goal should be to limit learning loss in children by keeping them healthy and able to attend school,” the letter reads.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Dix will provide a public health update at 11 a.m. Wednesday.

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