B.C. will now require masks in public indoor and retail spaces, following months of calls for such a mandate.
The announcement was one of a series of new measures announced by provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry on Thursday (Nov. 19) following record-breaking cases and deaths B.C. in recent days.
Many retailers and businesses have voiced their frustration with earlier iterations that amounted to recommendations and expectation for the public, but left it up to individual businesses to sort out details and enforcement. Henry said the new mandate will give businesses government support in enforcing mask rules.
Masks will be required for both customers and employees in indoor retail and public spaces in all parts of the province, except for when eating or drinking in a designated food service area. They will also be mandatory in workplaces and hotels for public areas like corridors and elevators, but not in schools.
As to why schools are exempt from Thursday’s rules on mask wearing, Henry said they “are not public open spaces.” Masks are mandatory in high traffic areas within middle and high schools.
“We don’t expect children to wear masks sitting at their desks all day long,” she said. Older students in Ontario and some Quebec schools are required to wear masks while in their classrooms.
In a social media post, the B.C. Teachers’ Federation stated its displeasure with the lack of a full mask mandate for schools.
“The Provincial Health Office has chosen not to mandate masks in #bced (sic) schools even as they make them mandatory in other public spaces. We continue to say to teachers, wear masks. Work with your colleagues to create a culture of mask wearing. Model it in your classes,” the union said.
“Many #bced (sic) schools have full mask policies because the staff, health and safety committee, or administrator made it happen.”
Retail and other employees standing behind plexiglass can take off their masks as long as there is only staff member there. People must wear masks in restaurants unless they are seated at their table. Those unable to wear a mask for a medical or disability related reason are exempt, and Henry cautioned that not all people’s conditions will be visible.
According to health officials, contact tracers have not been seeing transmission between people in public spaces such as grocery stores, which officials suggest is due to so many wearing masks voluntarily.
“It’s become apparent that this surge is happening across the province,” Henry said.
“We all need to focus our efforts on stopping the spread and bending the curve back down.”
Provinces like Ontario and Saskatchewan have already brought in similar mask mandates.
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