As B.C. has now entered cold and flu season, experts are urging people to wear masks indoors to stop the spread of airborne transmission of respiratory viruses despite a mask mandate being lifted months ago.
Dr. Sarah Otto, a University of British Columbia professor and member of the B.C. COVID-19 Modelling Group, said they know COVID-19 spreads mainly through the air, so masks are still one of the effective means to prevent human-to-human transmission.
Improving ventilation or being outside is the other.
“We’re already going into the flu and respiratory season with a lot of people sick, a lot of people in hospital, a lot of people out from work and recovering from COVID,” she said.
“So it’s going to be a double-whammy on the health-care system.”
Otto said she still wears a mask at the grocery store and on public transit and is urging others to do the same to try and stop the spread of any respiratory virus as much as possible.
“I think we can all chip in, do our part,” she added.
Otto said the COVID variant most on the rise in Canada now is BQ.1.1, and it is spreading at a faster rate than all of the other variants. She said it is known to have mutations that help it better evade immune systems.
“More of us are likely to get infected, so it’s another really good reason to mask because we know that this particular virus, if it gets in you, is just much more likely to cause an infection. So it’s better just to keep it out of your body mask up,” Otto said.
Health Minister Adrian Dix said he still wears a mask in indoor public spaces in order to protect himself and those around him.
“Wearing masks is something you can do for your friends and family. In indoor public spaces, I wear a mask, not everyone does, it is not mandatory but it is still recommended. And I recommend people still do so, particularly at this time of the year.”
He said people should wear masks especially when they are inside with a group of people they do not know.
On Friday, Dix said officials are concerned about the strain on the health-care system with COVID cases and influenza cases.
But he said the key is still vaccinations.
“Can I say one thing? They have to get vaccinated,” Dix said. “I think people have responded well to both vaccinations, both influenza and COVID-19 vaccinations, they’ve responded very well to that to date. But we need to do more.”
He added more than 500,000 people in the province have been vaccinated against the flu already this year but that number needs to increase.