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BC health advocates call on government to reinstate healthcare mask requirements

Protect Our Province BC, DoNoHarm BC, and Masks4EastVan highlight harms and human rights violations from loss of healthcare safety

Wednesday, April 17, 2024 (British Columbia) - Independent public health groups Protect Our Province BC, DoNoHarm BC, and Masks4EastVan are calling on the BC government to restore healthcare mask requirements. They are urging British Columbians to call for airborne pathogen protections in clinical settings by joining DoNoHarm BC’s campaign.

On April 8, 2024, BC public health authorities abruptly removed the province-wide rule for healthcare masking, ignoring researcher recommendations; guidance from BC’s Human Rights Commissioner; and over 18,000 messages from vulnerable British Columbians. The move occurred shortly after spring break, when increased travel can fuel disease spread. It takes place as BC faces not only ongoing COVID spread, but rising concerns about measles, tuberculosis, and H5N1 (avian influenza).

Healthcare workers at Protect Our Province BC highlight the dangers of downgrading healthcare safety. Dr. Susan Kuo points out, “Covid is an airborne virus that can travel 20 feet and hang for four hours in the air. It is at least as contagious as measles. Without the protection of mask mandates in hospitals and nursing homes, more vulnerable and elderly patients will become sick and die. More people, including health care workers, will become disabled with the effects of Long Covid." Hospital-acquired COVID has around a 10% mortality rate, while at least 1 in 9 Canadian adults have developed Long COVID so far.

The issue also disproportionately impacts marginalized groups - including immunocompromised people, for whom vaccines often provide less protection. While BC claims it will still use masks and respirators based on “risk assessments”, the experiences of patients and advocates say otherwise. Social services worker Hannah Wilson, an organizer with DoNoHarm BC and Masks4EastVan, has been unable to access care for over six months due to lack of respirators. She says, “After BC dropped hospital masks in 2023, I made a disability accommodations request for my care staff to wear KN95s or better. The hospital refused, and created a plan without my input that had no masks for staff, and would force me to stand waiting outside - something I can’t do because of my disability. They said if I didn’t like it I should “go elsewhere”, and that they were just following orders from the Provincial Health Officer.”

Protect Our Province BC’s Dr. Karina Zeidler points out that the last time BC experimented by dropping healthcare masking, it was followed by multiple COVID outbreaks. “Mask-wearing shouldn’t be optional, because there’s no acceptable amount of avoidable healthcare-acquired infection,” she says. “Everyone from the WHO to the Government of Canada recognizes COVID is airborne - which means that just as we need hand-washing for surface germs, we need mask-wearing for airborne germs.”

Protect Our Province BC, DoNoHarm BC and Masks4EastVan urge British Columbians to add their voices to the ongoing ‘Vulnerability Isn’t Seasonal’ campaign at DoNoHarmBC.ca

Archived Briefings from Protect Our Province BC

In honor of February being Heart Month, cardiologist Dr. Leslie Kasza joined Protect our Province BC’s Dr. Susan Kuo for a discussion on COVID-19’s impact on heart health and how you can reduce your risk. Don’t be fooled into thinking it won’t happen to you because you are _________, fill in the blank: young, healthy vaccinated and/or you only had a mild infection, etc.
A Protect Our Province BC panel discussion about how we as a community, can pull together to create a safer learning environment for kids when school starts again in September! We can avoid another ‘tripledemic’ if we work together! Ready for Fall 2023? Briefing video:
“COVID-19 vaccination is safe during pregnancy and may protect newborns from infection, especially if vaccines are given in the second or third trimester. This is similar to what we are already doing with other maternal vaccines, including TDaP and seasonal influenza.” – Dr. Eastabrook

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