Mask mandate returns to B.C. for all indoor public spaces

B.C.’s top doctor has reintroduced province-wide mask requirements in indoor, public settings for everyone 12 years and older starting Wednesday.

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — B.C.’s top doctor has reintroduced province-wide mask requirements for everyone 12 years and older starting Wednesday. Masks will be required in places such as malls, public transit, as well as pubs and bars.

Dr. Bonnie Henry says the mandate comes as COVID-19 transmissions have creeped upwards.

“This measure is needed to ensure that these indoor settings are as safe as they can be for all of us as we head into the fall, and we spend more time in activities, whether it’s school or other activities, indoors,” Henry said.

The province also announced masks would be required in schools for students in Grades 4 – 12 as well as all teachers and staff.

“Rates of transmission in our communities have creeped upwards,” Henry said, adding British Columbians also need to be diligent with other measures to prevent transmission of COVID-19.

“Using hand hygiene regularly, staying away when we’re sick ourselves, and keeping a respectful distance from people when we’re in public spaces — these are the things that we need to continue to do to get us through this next phase of our pandemic.”

“It’s hard to say what is going to happen over the fall,” she said, adding the province is adapting throughout the pandemic.

“Obviously, we’re watching the case rates [and] transmission in certain communities, particularly where there are pockets of peoplewho are unvaccinated. And those are the the issues that we’ll need to continue to address as we go through the next few months. The mask mandate is one of those additional layers that we’re putting in place,” she said. 

Henry faced online backlash over the weekend when she attended a BC Lions game and was pictured maskless and posing with football fans. Henry says the days of summer are soon behind us and the rate of transmission has ramped up.

“We know that [among] people who are immunized, particularly in outdoor spaces, keeping distance, that risk of transmission is very very low. But we also know that as we move into the fall, we’re starting to congregate more in indoor public spaces, and right now we know that this virus is transmitting in some of those indoor public spaces. So this is an additional measure,” she explained. 

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The new mask mandate also applies to anyone riding transit or taking a ferry come Wednesday.

TransLink’s Jill Drews says this means going back to the former rules before the previous mask mandate was lifted in July.

“This includes whether you’re on board a vehicle or waiting to board transit, or any indoor or sheltered station or stop,” she says. “So we hope that we’ll see what we saw last time, which is the vast majority of our customers complying with this new rule.”

Drews says she doesn’t expect the implementation to cause major disruptions.

“A lot of people are continuing to choose to wear masks, myself included, so it won’t be a major change for a lot of us. I think what’s important is just communicating out to our customers that this is required now for everyone, even if you felt comfortable not wearing a mask,” she says.

Although the transit authority wasn’t completely taken aback by Henry’s announcement, she says it’s going to take a bit of time to get their public information campaigns up-and-running again.

“We are going to be putting some verbal announcements or audio announcements on SkyTrain that hopefully our customers will hear,” she says. “But it will take some time to get back to the place where we have some of the more creative looking decals and such around the system and buses.”

BC Ferries has confirmed masks will be mandatory on vessels and in terminals for anyone 12 or older.

B.C. lifted its previous mask mandate in July, and the province was expected to move to the next step in its Restart Plan in September.

The premier said Monday those plans for a return to normal are now ‘unlikely.’

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