B.C. health officials say mask mandate not needed amid surge of respiratory illness

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Wednesday a mask mandate was currently not needed in B.C. because there is a high level of protection in the community and other tools are available. (Mike McArthur/CBC - image credit)
Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Wednesday a mask mandate was currently not needed in B.C. because there is a high level of protection in the community and other tools are available. (Mike McArthur/CBC - image credit)

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says even with rising rates of respiratory illness, especially among children, a mask mandate is not necessary at this time.

"I don't believe we need that heavy hand of a mandate," said Henry. "I don't see the need for a mask mandate by itself because we have many other tools and a high level of protection."

Henry said previous mask mandates were imposed when COVID-19 vaccines were not available for children and when there was a high rate of sickness and absenteeism among adults and restrictions on gathering.

"In that context, masks were important and necessary. We are in a different situation now. We have a very high level of immunity. We have vaccines. We have treatments for influenza, for COVID-19, for RSV," she said.

Henry said the latest data shows that the illness being seen most commonly among children in B.C. is influenza A, and to a lesser degree, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection.

WATCH | Dr. Bonnie Henry speaks to why she isn't yet ready to impose a mask mandate:

She said overall, cases of COVID-19 were levelling off across the province, and with high levels of COVID-19 immunity and vaccination, a big resurgence of the virus was unlikely.

When it comes to children being compelled to wear masks in schools, Henry said previous mask mandates had negative consequences for school-age children.

Every school in B.C. has received a ventilation assessment, according to Henry, although no results were shared.

Both Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix encouraged mask use in settings where it makes sense: on transit, in crowds, and when sick, to name a few.

"If I have a sick child at home, I may wear a mask in my workplace to be extra cautious, even though I'm feeling well and I need to go, and I can go, in to work,'' said Henry.

Dix said 1.2 million B.C. residents have already received a flu shot this year, twice as many as last year.

He said the province is opening more hospital beds in preparation for the flu season, but the situation isn't as desperate as in other provinces.