COVID-19 in B.C.: Mask mandate for indoor public settings now in place

VANCOUVER — British Columbia’s public health order requiring masks in most indoor public settings came into effect Wednesday, in an effort to combat the Delta variant and a fourth wave of COVID-19.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry made the surprise announcement Tuesday, citing the surge in new infections and hospitalizations.

“The increasing levels of transmission, particularly among unvaccinated people as we’ve talked about and in part, of course due to the increased transmissibility of the variant that we’re seeing circulating,” said Henry.

Masks must be worn by anyone 12 and older in most indoor public settings.

This includes shopping centres, coffee shops, retail and grocery stores, community and recreation centres and restaurants and bars – unless you are seated at your table.

It also applies to public transit, taxi and ride-sharing vehicles, common areas of fitness centres, and areas of office buildings where services are provided to the public.

B.C. introduced its previous mask mandate in November 2020 and didn’t lift it until July 1.

At that time, B.C.’s seven-day average case count was 48; it’s now 608.

Some members of the independent BC COVID-19 Modelling Group pushed to keep the mask requirement all along.

“There’s evidence growing globally that people that are vaccinated can still get the virus and often not even know it they can be asymptomatic and pass along the virus,” said Dr. Sarah Otto, a zoology professor at the University of British Columbia.

People who can’t wear a mask or put one on without the assistance of others are exempt from the mask mandate. Masks may be taken off temporarily for identification, to eat or drink at dining locations or when participating in a physical activity.

They are encouraged for kids under 12, but not recommended for children under the age of two.

Henry says the order will be reassessed in mid-October, when the province fully implements it’s vaccine passport program that was announced on Monday.

As of Tuesday 83.3 per cent of eligible people 12 and older in B.C. have received their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine and 75.1 per cent are fully vaccinated.

“We know that even a 10 per cent increase per age group makes a big difference in blunting the impact of even the Delta variant that we’re seeing being transmitted right now,” said Dr. Henry.

B.C. was scheduled to move into the next phase of our restart plan on Sept. 7, health officials say that’s highly unlikely now. 

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