B.C.’s top doctor toughens tone on masks in public: ‘It is now the expectation’

It’s not an order, but British Columbia’s top doctor has toughened her tone on wearing masks in public places to try and stop the spread of COVID-19.

At her Monday briefing, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry asked residents to always wear a mask when visiting an indoor public space.

“It is now the expectation that people will wear a non medical mask in public spaces,” Henry said.

Read more: B.C. reports 817 new cases of COVID-19 over three days, crushing records

“So if I’m going to the grocery store, if I’m going to the hardware store or the Costco or on public transit or need to go into renew my driver’s licence, those are times where we need to wear a mask.”

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As the pandemic has worsened, Henry’s mask guidance has evolved.

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While health officials have been consistent from the beginning that masks can work to prevent an infected person from spreading the virus to others, Henry raised some early concerns they could provide a false sense of security to the wearer.

In May she shifted her stance from being “permissive” of masks to recommending them in some situations.

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Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry recommends wearing a mask in these situations

That stance has now evolved to an expectation that masks be worn, though Henry said the public needs to be aware and accepting of people who cannot wear them because of a disability or medical condition.

“The evidence is showing us that those are situations where we can’t always keep our safe distance, and a mask can be an additional layer of protection,” she said.

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“It’s not an order, because this is something I know we support as part of our mutual responsibilities to protect ourselves and protect each others.”

Read more: COVID-19: B.C. cracks down on mass social gatherings as cases break records

Henry is previously on record as opposing a legal requirement that people mask up, describing mandatory masks as “heavy-handed.”

She also continues to maintain that physical distancing and hand hygiene remain the most effective tools to stop the spread of the virus.

A number of businesses as well as some services such as ferries and transit have mandatory mask policies. On Monday, the City of Richmond implemented its own mandatory mask policy for civic facilities.

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