Cowichan Valley MLA Sonia Furstenau wants to see the mask mandate reinstated in indoor public spaces in B.C. to protect the province’s children during the respiratory illnesses season.
Furstenau, who is also head of the provincial Green Party, made the statement after significant increases in pediatric hospital wait times and school absences in B.C. due to respiratory illnesses among children.
“After two and a half challenging years, parents are now facing the terrifying prospect of not being able to access healthcare for their sick kids,” Furstenau said.
“We are all exhausted, we all want the pandemic to be behind us, but when it comes to children we have a responsibility to do everything we can to protect them.”
Furstenau said it’s well known know that masks help both with preventing the spread of COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses.
She said children and teachers are used to wearing masks, and if there is even a small chance B.C. can stop the scary situation in Ontario — where a combination of flu, respiratory syncytial virus and COVID-19 are putting tremendous stress on its under-staffed hospitals — from playing out here, the province should take it.
“At this stage in the pandemic, public health measures are a political decision and I urge our incoming premier [David Eby] to recognize the urgency of this situation and reinstate a mask mandate in indoor public spaces to protect our kids,” Furstenau said.
Dr. Sanjiv Gandhi, clinical professor of surgery at UBC’s School of Medicine and pediatric cardiovascular and thoracic surgeon at B.C. Children’s Hospital, also said reintroducing mandatory mask mandates in indoor public spaces may be a good idea.
He said pediatric hospital emergency rooms and inpatient capacity is currently precarious in B.C.’s hospitals due to the convergence of multiple respiratory pathogens and altered population immunity which has resulted in a significant increase in viral infections in children across B.C. and Canada.
Gandhi said the province must do whatever is necessary now to deal with the issue.
“Requiring, not suggesting, masking in indoor public settings, schools, and on mass transit and deploying effective technologies to improve indoor air quality are necessary public health measures essential to protect our children and help those that care for them,” he said.
But Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s provincial health officer, said on Nov. 16 that the province has no plans to re-introduce a mask mandate in the near future, and would likely only consider one if a new virus suddenly emerges.
Henry said while masks were a vital tool at this time last year, mandating them is not necessary this time around.
This, she said, is largely due to a higher degree of immunity among people aged five and older and the introduction of a vaccine for those under age five.
“We are in a different situation now,” Henry said.
“I do not believe we need the heavy hand of a mandate to send the message that masks are an important tool that we can use at this time.”
Henry said she hopes individuals choose to wear masks during higher-risk situations, such as in crowded spaces, when they’re feeling unwell, or when their child is sick.
—With files from Jane Skrypnek, Black Press