A server wears a face mask while cleaning a table on the patio at an Earls restaurant in Vancouver in May. A group of doctors and dentists are calling on the B.C. government to make masks mandatory. Photo: Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press

B.C. doctors, dentists call on province for mandatory mask rule

Open letter says masks should be worn in indoor public spaces, public transportation or in crowds

Eighty-two doctors and dentists are calling for the use of mandatory masks in the B.C.

In an open letter addressed to Premier John Horgan, health minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, the group Masks4Canada say face coverings should be worn in all indoor spaces outside homes, in public transportation or among crowds.

Dr. James Heilman, head of the emergency room department at Cranbrook’s East Kootenay Regional Hospital, is one of the letter’s signees. He said medical understanding of COVID-19 has broadened since the provincial lockdown in March.

“Because of the increase in evidence of the degree of benefit that masks provide, more and more of us are seeing this as a key health-care measure to prevent a second wave from really hitting British Columbia,” said Heilman, who added he wasn’t speaking on behalf of Interior Health.

There are caveats to the call for masks. The group recommends people with medical contraindications, disabilities or young children be exempt (Heilman defined young as ages two and under), and also does not recommend penalties enforcing the policy.

“We here in B.C. are behind the curve with respect to our policies around preventative measures, specifically masks or COVID-19,” said Heilman.

Henry has consistently said B.C. residents should wear masks, but has stopped short of making them mandatory.

“I have seen many more people wearing masks, and that is very gratifying,” she said at a July 23 press conference.

“I do it myself. If and when we get to a point where we have a lot of community transmission, where we’re seeing a lot of these transmission events happening in places like transit, or in places like retail stores, then this is an option that we can move to. But it is not something that I’m considering at this point.

Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam first advised the use of non-medical masks on April 6, but did not make them mandatory. Rules have since varied across the country.

Last month, Quebec became the first province to require masks worn at indoor public places. Ontario meanwhile has left the decision up to municipalities, with Toronto and Ottawa introducing mandatory mask bylaws.

Alberta announced Tuesday it would require students to wear masks when schools reopen this fall. Henry said the same day B.C. would not make the same rule for its students.

Nova Scotia introduced its own mandatory mask order July 31 by requiring the coverings in indoor spaces regardless of distancing. New Brunswick meanwhile requires masks in public when distancing isn’t possible.

The letter from Masks4Canada cites a July 16 poll released by Angus Reid, which found 74 per cent of the 1,503 Canadians surveyed support a mandatory mask policy. Seventy-three per cent of B.C. residents also approved the policy, according to the same poll.

“Wearing a mask is not a huge burden,” said Heilman. “It’s a pretty simple measure. It’s a low cost. You know, it’s a minor inconvenience at worst and there’s solid evidence that it not only protects you, but it protects those around you.”

B.C. has had 195 confirmed deaths and 3,787 cases of COVID-19 as of Tuesday (Aug. 5), according to the BC Centre for Disease Control.

Related:

B.C. teacher hopes province will change back-to-school plan in fear of COVID transmission

Feds keep lid on company names, dollar amounts in some COVID-19 contracts

@tyler_harper | tyler.harper@nelsonstar.com

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