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When B.C. ends mask mandate, many say they’ll keep covered

Last Updated May 26, 2021 at 11:08 pm PDT

FILE - A sign at a Vancouver business tells customers that face masks are required. (Hana Mae Nassar, NEWS 1130 Photo)

At a later stage in B.C.'s restart plan, masks will no longer be mandatory in the province's indoor spaces

People who plan to keep wearing mass say they appreciate the health benefits, worry about ongoing COVID-19 risk

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — B.C.’s restart plan includes the possibility of doing away with mandatory masks as soon as July, but many say they plan to keep their faces covered for the foreseeable future.

On Tuesday, Dr. Bonnie Henry announced that if case numbers remain low and 70 per cent of the population is vaccinated, indoor mask usage could become a matter of personal choice as early as July.

Masks have been mandatory in indoor, public spaces in the province since November 2020. While some people say they are excited to finally have fog-free glasses and uncovered faces, many are sharing concerns about doing away with masks too soon.

Elaine Yong’s daughter is immunocompromised after having a heart transplant when she was three weeks old, so her reaction to the easing of restrictions is mixed.

“A large part of me is relieved and overjoyed that I can have my parents over for the first time after more than a year … but I have to tell you that I also felt a lot of anxiety,” she says.

Like Yong, Margaret Benson will also keep her mask on to protect herself and her husband. Benson is a kidney and double lung transplant recipient, and her husband has a rare blood cancer, making the both of them extremely vulnerable to viruses like COVID-19.

“I will probably wear a mask for a number of years indoors. Outdoors I’m feeling a little more confident to not necessarily wear a mask, but if I go to a place where there might be lots of people — then I do wear a mask,” she says.

For some, masks were part of pre-pandemic normal

While masks have become a part of the new normal for many, for some wearing masks was already a common choice in the winter or during flu season.

Jeff Yu, a high school student who lives in Richmond, says he would sometimes mask up pre-pandemic.

“In Japan or Taiwan, where I’m from, masks are actually common. In the winter, if you had a cough or anything, it’s common to see people wearing masks before the pandemic happened,” he says.

“So I’m vaccinated but I’m going to continue to wear masks, like a surgical or cloth mask if I’m sick or just for the next bit because I’m still concerned about COVID right now.”

Yong and her family didn’t wear masks before the pandemic but are happy to add another tool to their health and safety toolbox.

“We didn’t because it was just one of those things that in western North American society no one really wore masks. However, I really have been amazed that none of us really have had a cold [in the past year] … No respiratory issues, no one’s been sick – so I can really see the benefit of it.”

Yong hasn’t been the only one to notice the disappearance of the flu this year. The BC Centre for Disease Control says only one case of the flu was recorded in the 2020-21 season — a possible credit to the mask mandate, social distancing, and rigorous hand washing amid COVID-19.

When masks become a matter of choice, some worry about backlash

Despite the potential health benefits, Yu says he is worried people who keep masking up may be judged — or worse. This is something he says he’s especially worried about after a friend of his was assaulted in San Francisco and had his mask ripped off.

“I’m very concerned that maybe if I go to a place where the mask-wearing rate won’t be as high and I’m wearing one, maybe they’ll think I’m sick, maybe they’ll think I’m spreading the virus,” he explains.

Shirley Paulsen also says she was shamed last fall at a farmer’s market for deciding to keep her mask on, and believes there’s potential for these public affronts to become worse in the future.

“At the end of the day it’s a personal choice, I’m protecting myself,” she says.

“Some people say ‘wearing a mask, what’s the point?’ But then you can say the same thing about a condom. A condom isn’t just used for pregnancies, they’re used for protection against unwanted diseases. If you need to be safe, then masks are prophylactic.”

Yong hopes the past year will make people more understanding of the choice to wear a mask.

“Everybody has a story and you can’t judge them by what they’re wearing, how they look, what they’re doing or need to do to stay safe. You have no idea what their story is. My daughter looks perfectly healthy and normal, if you saw her walking down the street, you would not know that she nearly died when she was three weeks old and required a heart transplant. But once you know that, it puts context into it, so hopefully we can understand that everyone has a story.”