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Why doesn't B.C. order people to wear COVID-19 masks?

FILE - An N-95 mask is seen in Toronto on Friday, March 27, 2020. One of the world's largest U.S.-based makers of consumer products was told by the White House to stop exporting medical-grade face masks to the Canadian market. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)
Summary

Unlike other jurisdictions, B.C. has not ordered people to wear masks

A mandatory mask order could come to B.C. if a resurgence of COVID-19 comes

Decision to make mask order 'weighs the balance between some personal freedoms and existing risks'

NEWS 1130 is working hard to get you the information you need about the COVID-19 pandemic.

We are responding to your questions in a segment we call NEWS 1130 Gets Answers.

Question:

Brad: “I’m extremely disappointed with the behaviour exhibited by many British Columbians when it comes to wearing face coverings in public. I feel it must be mandatory for anyone in an indoor environment to wear a face covering. It can no longer be optional. British Columbians have proven that adopting an optional policy on face coverings does not work (as seen with the increasing Covid numbers this week!). There are far too many people that will not wear a mask unless it’s mandated.”

Answer:

While other jurisdictions have imposed mandatory mask orders, B.C. has encouraged their use without requiring them.

On June 30, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said B.C.’s level of coronavirus transmission did not necessitate a mask order.

“Having said that, I do wear a mask myself,” she said.

Henry said she strongly recommends others wear masks, especially when indoors and unable to maintain distance from other people. She recommends people wear masks on transit and when in small grocery stores.

“There’s no real benefit that we know of for wearing a mask outside if you’re by yourself, or if you’re in a car by yourself. Those situations, it’s not needed. We should have one with us all the time so that we can wear them in those situations as they pop up.”

But Henry said she might impose a mandatory mask order if there is a surge in COVID-19 cases.

“We’re not at that point right now,” she said. “Right now, the focus needs to be on doing what we’re doing, maintaining our safe physical distance and having that extra layer of protection to protect others from us when we can’t reliably maintain those physical distances.”

Henry said she has been hesitant to order British Columbians to wear masks because doing so is “not a viable option” for some.

“Primarily, anybody for whom it’s difficult to take it on themselves, young children, people with disabilities, it can be very much a challenge.”

Dr. David White, a community medicine professor at the University of Toronto, noted the Centres for Disease Control has a “short” list of people who should not wear a mask: children younger than two years old, people with breathing problems and anyone who is unable to remove a mask on their own.

White said Henry may have chosen to recommend masks, rather than require them, because she believes there’s a “high level of social cohesion in B.C.

Epidemiologist Stephen Hoption Cann said Henry’s decision “weighs the balance between some personal freedoms and existing risks.”

“In places where there have been surges in new cases or where the number of daily new cases has remained high, we have seen orders for mandatory use of masks in public spaces, but because B.C.’s numbers are stable at a low levels, then recommending masks rather than making them mandatory is a reasonable compromise.”

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