Bonnie Henry stands by mask policy in schools, says B.C. won’t sign on to alert app just yet

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – As B.C.’s top doctor announced on Monday new limits on the number of people allowed to gather in private homes, she also stood by her messaging on masks, including where and when they are mandated.

Dr. Bonnie Henry reiterated her reasons for not making face coverings mandatory in classrooms, despite an outbreak forcing the closure of a French-language school in Kelowna.

She said health officials are still trying to figure out how transmission of the coronanvirus happened at École de l’Anse-au-sable, where 11 people had tested positive for COVID-9 and where 160 people were forced into self-isolation.

“There may have been more than one person in that school who had COVID-19,” Henry said of the Kelowna outbreak. “So we’re investigating that now. We’re using some of the new techniques that we have, including using things like whole genome sequencing to understand how transmission happened.”

Despite this, Henry said that, to her, the overall situation shows the plan is working.

“We know that it’s circulating in the community, we know that there’s going to be, inevitably, people who inadvertently are in the school environment,” Henry explained.

“We put out some of the statistics on this week — I think there was 216 exposure events, and very few transmission events, where people passed it to another in the school setting, less than 10. And this was our first outbreak. So, to me, that tells us that what we’re doing is working, and that public health is there, and that we’re working with the schools and the teams to investigate and make sure we’re learning from the exposures that do happen, and in this case the outbreak.”

As part of her new order limiting gatherings in households across B.C. to members of your immediate household plus your “safe six,” Henry announced an expectation for people to wear masks in all public indoor places.

However, she refrained from making this a mandatory order. Henry also did not make any changes to the mask policies at B.C. schools.

“There is provisions for masks in certain areas of the school, and it doesn’t change the way the school plans are designed and what they should be doing, how we should be wearing masks in the school setting,” she said.

“I know that young people are adaptable and that many of them are wearing masks on a routine basis, whether they are ordered to or not, and I think that’s really important. And we need to continue that and continue the encouragement of that over the coming months,” Henry added.

Currently, students and staff must wear masks in common areas, like hallways.

B.C. still negotiating with feds over COVID Alert App

Meanwhile, Henry also touched on the subject of the federal government’s COVID Alert App, and when British Columbians could expect to see it being rolled out here.

As it stands right now, Henry said there were still some parametres she feels don’t work yet.

“It’s been a challenge for us,” she said. “We believe it would cause more concern and frustration as we’ve seen in some other provinces, and so we’re still negotiating with the federal government about modifying it to mee the needs, so it would be useful for us.”

Related video: COVID Alert mobile app glitch causes panic

The app is currently active in a number of provinces, including Ontario and Quebec, the two provinces reporting the highest numbers of COVID-19 in the country. The app is designed to track the location of phones relative to each other, without collecting personal data anywhere centrally, using digital identifications unique to each device.

Users can then be notified if their phones have recently been near the phone of a person who later volunteers that they’ve tested positive for COVID-19.

Henry said on Monday that she would prefer an app that identifies specific times when there may have been someone with the coronavirus in a user’s vicinity.

“We are still negotiating with the federal government to modify it to meet the needs so that it would be useful for us,” she explained. “What we really would like to see is an app that we could download when we’re at a celebration, or a party, or a church service, so that we can identify those specific times when there may have been somebody with COVID who was in that vicinity. Right now, it’s very non-specific, and it goes back for 14 days, which, to us, doesn’t make a lot of sense because people are not infectious for 14 days before their test comes back.”

While the federal government has agreed to address some of these concerns, Henry said the app is just not at the point of being helpful in B.C.’s fight against the coronavirus.

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