The B.C. government says the COVID-19 mask mandate will be lifted in health-care settings across the province, signifying the end of the last broad masking requirement in place three years into the COVID-19 pandemic.
The move away from legislated safety requirements to mitigate the spread and impact of COVID-19 comes as a respiratory illness season that hit B.C. hard earlier this year winds down, with Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry noting a decrease in infections across the board.
The removal of the mask mandate, effective immediately, applies to patients, visitors and health-care workers in all B.C. health-care settings, though there will be some exceptions, Henry said.
Health-care workers will continue to wear masks based on risk assessments, taking into account the specific settings they are in and the symptoms and conditions of their patients.
Other instances where masks will be required include:
- when visitors, patients or workers have symptoms (visitors will also be encouraged to come another time, Henry said)
- in any facilities or care homes experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks
- in certain units within health-care facilities, like those that treat immunocompromised people
In addition to the removal of the mask mandate, proof of vaccine cards and test requirements will no longer be needed for people entering long-term care or assisted-living facilities.
Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix said the decision aims to ease the burden on both visitors and their loved ones who are in care.
Henry reiterated that the COVID-19 vaccination mandate for health-care workers will remain in place, calling it a “very important” requirement.
She encouraged all British Columbians to continue following other COVID-19 hygiene guidelines like frequent hand-washing and stressed the need for patience in the immediate term.
“As we transition over the next few days, you may be asked to wear a mask as people are adjusting to the new changes,” said Henry. “And I encourage people to please, as we’ve been all along with every change, it takes time for these things to happen, so I encourage patience and kindness if you’re going into a long-term care home or a health-care facility in the next few days.”
Lifting hospital mask mandate ‘makes no sense’: patient
Shelley Shenton is immunocompromised and has to go to the hospital every four weeks for treatment. She says these changes make her more uneasy accessing her life-saving treatment.
“I have something called CVID, which is common variable immunodeficiency, so I don’t have robust responses to vaccines. I go for a treatment called [Intravenous Immunoglobulin] to our hospital every four weeks,” Shenton told CHEK News.
“It just makes no sense, it’s hard enough navigating anything else in life, a place that should be safe is where I go get the treatment that kind of keeps me safe from a whole bunch of pathogens in the world.”
Shenton says since she is immunocompromised, she would likely have a “bad outcome” if she were to catch COVID, but she has to go to the hospital for her treatment.
“I have to,” Shenton said. “It’s an unnerving situation, I’m going to be really second guessing myself for the days afterwards. Every little symptom I might get, is it a reaction to my IVIG because some of them can resemble some of the beginning symptoms of COVID.”
Andrew Longhurst, a health policy researcher with Simon Fraser University, says removing the mask mandate puts patients accessing health care settings at risk.
“One of the cardinal rules of medicine is do no harm, and I think this is entirely in contradiction of that,” Longhurst said. “We know that this is one of the most transmissible viruses in human history. It’s spread through the air, masks are an effective and low burden mitigation. They’re not perfect, no one is saying that, but good tight fitting masks, especially respirators, are are highly effective.”
Dr. Lyne Filiatrault with Protect Our Province BC, a group of health care workers calling for more COVID protection measures, says other provinces dropped their mask mandate so she assumed B.C. would follow suit.
With each infection of COVID, the risk of developing long-COVID increases, Filiatrault said.
“It is not a respiratory virus, it is a vascular inflammatory virus that will make any pre existing condition that people have worse and will give people new chronic disease from heart failure, high blood pressure, heart attacks, blood clots, kidney disease, strokes, and diabetes, and much more,” Filiatrault said.
“This is not a mild virus when you can chronically disable, with post viral syndrome or long-COVID, 10 per cent of your population.”
Filiatrault says being vaccinated can reduce the risk but does not eliminate it.
“Every time you let the infection run rampant, more people will get it and…we’ve seen athletes get chronically disabled from long COVID,” Filiatrault said. “This is absolute lunacy, it’s reckless. And it will endanger the long term health and well being of British Columbians.”
LIVE: Henry, Dix update on respiratory season
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LIVE: Henry, Dix update on respiratory season
B.C.'s Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix provide an update on the respiratory illness season.