British Columbians will be required to wear a mask in all indoor public spaces once again, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said at a Tuesday (Aug. 24) press conference.
Masks will be required in locations including retail stores, malls, libraries, community centres, public transit, common areas of fitness centres and at bars and restaurants – unless seated – starting Wednesday (Aug. 25). The mask mandate had previously been lifted in July as B.C. entered Phase 3, which occurred as cases and hospitalizations decreased and first dose vaccinations rates for adults reached 70 per cent.
“This is to address those situations where we are in indoor settings with people who may not yet have been vaccinated,” Henry said. “This temporary order will be reassessed as the B.C. vaccine card requirement is fully implemented in certain social and recreational centre settings.”
Transmission of the virus has increased in recent weeks, with more than 1,700 cases reported over the weekend. The biggest spike has been in Interior Health, where at first the Central Okanagan area and then the rest of the health authority had a mask mandate imposed prior to the province-wide one.
Henry said that the mask mandate was coming back because people are more likely to congregate in indoor spaces as the weather cools, where the virus is more easily spread.
“We said all along masks are one of the additional measures that we need in certain circumstances, particularly when we’re in places that may have poor ventilation where we’re around people whose vaccine status we don’t yet know,” she said.
Henry said that the mask mandate would work to help slow transmission as the respiratory virus season begins, but that she couldn’t say how COVID-19 cases would change over the fall.
“It’s hard to say what will happen over the fall,” she said, noting that her concern was for areas where vaccination rates remained low.
“Those are the issues we will need to continue to address.”
The provincial health officer said that the mask mandate was an “additional step” to keep people safe but that immunizations remained key in the fight against COVID-19.
“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.”
The majority of COVID cases and hospitalizations in recent weeks have been in people who are not fully vaccinated. While the province does not release the vaccination status of people diagnosed and hospitalized with COVID-19 each day, data from Aug. 11-17 shows that 71 per cent of cases were among the unvaccinated, 16 per cent were among the partially vaccinated and 13 per cent were among the fully vaccinated.
Hospitalization data from Aug. 10-16 shows that 84 per cent of hospitalizations were among the unvaccinated, five per cent were among the partially vaccinated and 11 per cent were among the fully vaccinated.
As of Monday, 83.2 per cent of eligible people in B.C. have received their first dose and 74.9 have received their second.