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No plans for ‘heavy-handed’ mandatory mask policy, says B.C.’s top doctor

B.C. doctor seeks court injunction to force mandatory mask policy
B.C. doctor seeks court injunction to force mandatory mask policy

British Columbia will not be imposing mandatory mask requirements in public places to help fight COVID-19, the province’s top doctor said Thursday.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry wouldn’t rule the idea out in a situation where B.C. saw a massive surge in community transmission, but that the option is not currently on the table.

Read more: Vancouver protesters rally against masks, though experts say they slow spread of COVID-19

Henry’s comments came after the CBC reported a B.C. doctor is heading to court seeking an injunction that would require masks in indoor spaces such as transit, restaurants or schools.

Calgary approves mandatory masks for indoor public spaces
Calgary approves mandatory masks for indoor public spaces

“Right now I do not believe that there is sufficient community spread that we are at that point where mandatory masking, which is a rather heavy-handed approach, is needed,” Henry told reporters at her Thursday briefing.

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“We know that it is in additional layer on top of the other layers we use to keep each other safe, and it is the least effective of the many layers we have.”

Read more: Mask myths, debunked: No, wearing a mask won’t ‘shut down’ your immune system

Henry added that there are British Columbians who cannot effectively wear masks and would be stigmatized by such a policy.

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However, she said she continues to “recommend strongly” the use of masks in any situation where people are unable to maintain two metres of physical distance.

TransLink is asking passengers to wear a mask while riding transit, and a number of B.C. private businesses have done the same. Some, such as hair stylists or tattoo artists may require them under under WorkSafeBC guidelines.

B.C.’s top doctor says face masks will not be mandated at schools in September
B.C.’s top doctor says face masks will not be mandated at schools in September

A number of other Canadian jurisdictions have implemented mandatory mask policies for indoor public spaces.

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Toronto and Calgary require them on transit and in indoor public spaces. Toronto’s mayor says he’s mulling expanding the order to shared spaces in apartment buildings.

There appears to be growing support for mandatory mask measures in B.C.

A recent poll found 73 per cent of B.C. parents support a mask mandate for their children, when they return to school.

A Change.org petition to make mask-wearing mandatory on transit in Metro Vancouver has garnered nearly 10,000 signatures in four days.

Non-medical masks do little to protect the person wearing them from COVID-19, but can play an important role in helping stop the spread of the virus, according to the B.C. Centre for Disease Control.

Premier John Horgan on why face masks aren’t mandatory in B.C.
Premier John Horgan on why face masks aren’t mandatory in B.C.

Masks function by capturing droplets that people cough, sneeze or eject when speaking, something the BC CDC says is particularly important if a person is asymptomatic or presymptomatic with the coronavirus.

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Health Minister Adrian Dix said that while masks have a role to play in stopping the virus, but are not the key weapon in the fight.

“Dr. Henry talks about a hierarchy of ways we can stop transmission — at the top of that hierarchy is physical distancing,” said Dix.

“Wearing a mask does not take away the obligation to physically distance.”

Read more: Coronavirus: B.C.’s top doctor recommends non-medical masks in some scenarios

Dix declined to speak about the mandatory mask court case, but said the province would continue to follow the advice of public health experts.

“Obviously I think that public health decisions about what the best course should be should be supported by the government, but presented and based on evidence, and that’s what we’re doing in B.C.,” he said.