Coronavirus cases and respiratory illnesses may be on the rise, but British Columbia has no plans to re-introduce a mask mandate.
At least not at the moment.
Adrian Dix, the province’s health minister, said Monday that there are currently no plans to bring back a mandatory mask mandate.
“The message is the same, guidance, especially if you have some form of respiratory illness, even a cold, to wear a mask, especially among vulnerable people,” he said.
Dix’s comments come after Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Kieran Moore, strongly recommended residents in that province wear masks in indoor public settings. However, Moore stopped short of imposing a mandate.
Medical professionals around the country have expressed concern over rising COVID-19 infections, combined with a respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) that is circulating among children and influenza, which is also putting young children at risk.
Protect Our Province BC and the Safe Schools Coalition BC issued a joint open letter on Tuesday to Dix urging him to reverse course and introduce a mask mandate.
“You’ve got the perfect storm, you’ve got the ongoing COVID pandemic, you have two respiratory viruses, RSV and influenza that are hitting earlier than usual and hitting kids harder than we’re used to,” said Dr. Lyne Filiatrault, a retired emergency room physician and member of Protect of Province BC.
“Might as well do the best we can right now to preserve our health care capacity and most importantly to limit the number of sick children in the community right now.”
Quebec’s college of physicians has urged people to wear masks in public as hospitals in that province battle the trio of respiratory viruses, which are causing emergency rooms to fill up.
Elsewhere, Alberta’s Premier Danielle Smith said she won’t impose a mask mandate and urged people not to panic.
“We’re not going to be mandating masks,” Smith told reporters in Sherwood Park on Monday.
Instead, Smith said anyone who wants to wear a mask is free to do so, but that her focus is on procuring more supplies of scarce medicine like children’s Tylenol and reducing long wait times in hospital emergency rooms.
The premier has said she supports COVID-19 documents like the Great Barrington Declaration, which has been dismissed by Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s provincial health officer, and the World Health Organization as scientifically unsound.
The declaration urges protecting the old and frail but otherwise letting COVID-19 run free to build up herd immunity and keep society operating while preventing the longer-term consequences of isolation on people’s mental health. Sweden, Florida and South Dakota used this approach during COVID-19 at the expense of comparatively higher COVID-19 case and death rates.
While respiratory virus infections are on the rise in B.C., it hasn’t seen a spike yet like Ontario or Quebec. The Saanich and Sooke School Districts say there hasn’t been a noticeable increase in absenteeism among students or staff in recent weeks and Island Health says while visits to the emergency room for respiratory symptoms have increased slightly, admissions have not.
The Ministry of Health though says absences among healthcare workers are up for the week of Nov. 7 to Nov. 13 (9.6%) compared to the same period the year before (8.8%). While absenteeism in Island Health was higher in the past week than the provincial average (11.0%) that number is lower than it was during the same week in 2021 (12.9%)
With files from The Canadian Press