Masks and COVID-19: One of the important layers to protect yourself and your community

Such essential actions include maintaining a safe distance from others, cleaning our hands, and staying home if we get sick. Using masks appropriately is another important example of an individual act that results in a collective good. Each of these are a layer of protection to guard against a virus that never rests.

By Dr. Bonnie Henry
Provincial Health Officer
Nov 16, 2020

British Columbians have been nimble in adapting their individual actions to slow the spread of COVID-19 in our communities over the last ten months; and it’s had a big impact. Our actions have helped keep our hospitals, schools and workplaces open – and protect the ones we love.

Such essential actions include maintaining a safe distance from others, cleaning our hands, and staying home if we get sick. Using masks appropriately is another important example of an individual act that results in a collective good. Each of these are a layer of protection to guard against a virus that never rests.

Some people are asking when we will see masks mandated in BC. The answer is: they already are. The mandate to use masks appropriately is a cornerstone of businesses’ and organizations’ COVID-19 safety plans, and is embedded in our healthcare facilities operational policies and in restart protocols in other public institutions.

Despite how it might appear when we watch the news or go on social media, research shows that most of us in BC are doing the right things most of the time. Ordering universal mask use in all situations creates unnecessary challenges with enforcement and stigmatization – and we need only look at the COVID-19 transmission rates in other jurisdictions that have tried using such orders to see what little benefit these orders by themselves have served. We also know that when orders and fines are in place, it is racialized people, and those living in poverty or homeless, who are most often targeted.

Each day, we are continuing to learn more about the virus and how it spreads. Right now, we are seeing rapid transmission in social gatherings where masks would not be worn anyway; and in certain workplaces, and in risky indoor settings like group fitness activities. Provincial health officer orders are always a last resort, and we have used them carefully to address these recent trends.

The orders we have in place now complement our clear and express expectation that people will wear masks in indoor public places like shopping malls, in stores, and on ferries and transit.

Our orders also mandate that businesses and workplaces must have COVID-19 safety plans in place, and these should include mask-wearing in addition to barriers, reduced numbers of people in spaces, screening of workers and the public and availability of hand cleaning and sanitation. Staff and customers must abide by these plans, and businesses must offer virtual, online or contact-less alternatives to customers who cannot wear a mask. COVID-19 safety plans are enforceable, and something businesses and workplaces now plan for and have in place, in accordance with our orders.

We know that people want to do the right thing when they understand the reasons behind our thinking, and have the tools they need to do what is asked of them. Mask use is important, and we need everyone to have the same understanding of our expectations. Wearing a mask will never eliminate all risks, but it is a significant part of the layers of protection that can help protect us, our loved ones and our community. Now more than ever it is a measure we must all take.

An order can never replace our personal commitment. We need to be responsible for our own actions – that is how we all pull together. I wear a mask and I expect each of you, who can, to wear one too.

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