Removal of healthcare mask mandate violates right to equal participation: human rights commissioner


B.C.’s Human Rights Commissioner says removing the mask mandate in healthcare settings is a violation of vulnerable people’s rights to equal participation in communities.

Kasari Govender says she is troubled to hear of the removal of the mask mandate, and has “repeatedly” said the removal of mandates will disproportionately affect marginalized people, seniors, and clinically vulnerable people.

“This represents a violation of their rights to equal participation in our communities. Masks minimally impair those who wear them, but the impacts of COVID-19 on vulnerable people are well known and they vary from the mild to the deadly,” Govender said in a news release.

“If there is one space that all vulnerable people should be able to rely on to prioritize their safety, it is in healthcare settings, including long-term care facilities.”

Govender says vulnerable people continue to die or get serious illness from COVID, even if fully vaccinated.

“While I believe that we should be taking public health measures to protect marginalized and vulnerable people in all settings, healthcare settings, of all places, should prioritize the health of medically vulnerable people,” Govender said.

She acknowledges that isolation and some other public health measures can have social and psychological harms and should be minimized, but “masking should be seen as a protection rather than a restriction.”

Govender also spoke out against the removal of mask mandates in community settings.

READ MORE FROM MARCH 2022: B.C.’s Human Rights Commissioner urges reinstatement of mask mandate

The World Health Organization still recommends masking to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

“Wearing a mask reduces the spread of respiratory illnesses within the community by reducing the number of infectious particles that may be inhaled or exhaled,” the WHO says in a Q&A about masking for COVID. “Masks are one component of a package of prevention and control measures to limit the spread of COVID-19.”

WHO recommends wearing a mask:

  • In a crowded, enclosed or poorly ventilated area.
  • If you have symptoms of COVID and are sharing space with others.
  • When sharing space with others showing signs of COVID
  • When you are a vulnerable person in a public space.
  • If COVID infections are increasing in the community.

WHO also recommends health care workers to wear masks while COVID is circulating.

People react to mask mandate removal

Following the removal of mask mandates, many took to Twitter to show they were still wearing masks and their reason for why.

The sentiment was shared by many around the world.

Dr. Jennifer Lush, a Saanich family physician, also shared a post saying she masks “to protect my patients and fellow members of society.”

Speaking with CHEK News, Lush says she wanted to share a post to share support for people who are making the choice to continue masking.

“I wanted to show support for that instinct to be willing to take a simple step like wearing a mask and make a personal choice that potentially could have significant benefits for particularly the immunocompromised, and the elderly, in our communities,” Lush said.

“I think it’s also great to show support for people who choose to continue to wear masks so that they don’t somehow feel ostracized for the decision to continue keeping others safe around them.”

She says she still sees many patients who are affected by COVID.

“I have patients that are infected with it every week, and people are seeing their loved ones being affected by it,” Lush said.

“There are long-term care outbreaks, and there are people still dying of COVID, so the pandemic is not over. And if we can take a simple step, like wearing masks, particularly in healthcare settings, that reduces the risk of that and offloads the pressures on our hospitals, then why wouldn’t we take that step?”

Laura Brougham

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