Doctor 'thrilled' by mask mandate on transit, ferries, but says more needs to be done
VANCOUVER -- On the eve of mandatory mask rules coming into effect on buses, ferries and other forms of public transit across B.C., a family physician and mask advocate says there's more work to be done in the province before the flu season starts this fall.
Dr. Anna Wolak is also an assistant professor at the University of British Columbia and a member of the group Masks for BC, which has been pushing for mask mandates in the province.
"We're thrilled," Wolak said of the group's reaction to face coverings becoming mandatory on all TransLink, BC Transit and BC Ferries vehicles on Monday.
"It's one of the things that we had specifically cited as an area that we wanted to see mandatory masking," she added. "It is nearly impossible to physically distance on transit."
BC Ferries passengers will be required to wear masks at all times while on ferries or in ferry terminals, except when they are eating or inside their vehicles. People who have underlying medical conditions that prevent them from wearing a face covering and children under the age of two are exempt from the ferry service mandate.
On TransLink vehicles in Metro Vancouver and BC Transit vehicles elsewhere in the province, similar exceptions will be in place for children under age five and people who can't wear masks because of medical conditions.
Those who fail to wear a mask while on transit or on ferries may be denied service, and TransLink said when it announced its mask mandate that Metro Vancouver Transit Police would be empowered to enforce the rule with fines, if necessary, though education would be the focus at first.
Wolak said she thinks focusing on education is the right approach, and that penalties for people who fail to wear masks on transit could have a negative effect on mask-wearing, overall.
"We want to see people doing this because it's what's good for everyone," she said. "My mask protects you. Your mask protects me. Our masks protect everybody. We're trying to get through all of this together, and I think putting a penalty onto that is just going to destroy that and make the resistance worse."
Now that transit and ferries are requiring face coverings, Wolak said schools and health-care facilities are the next venues she'd like to see adopt such policies.
"I know the schools are trying their best to set up physical distancing, but the infrastructure is what it is, and it will be difficult to physically distance the children," she said. "Ideally we would like to see indoor masking in all schools at all grade levels."
Wolak said British Columbia has been more resistant than other provinces to requiring masks in indoor spaces. She said health officials in the province have expressed concern that people will be more likely to engage in risky behaviours if they're wearing masks because they'll feel a false sense of security.
That's a problem that can be overcome through consistent messaging, Wolak said, adding that she doesn't see it as a good reason not to implement mask mandates.
Masks are another layer of protection from COVID-19, she said. They should be used in conjunction with physical distancing, good hand hygiene and staying home when sick.
"We have to add as many layers of protection as we can to arm ourselves as we're heading into winter," Wolak said. "It's kind of like Swiss cheese. Each layer of Swiss cheese will have a hole in it, but if you add layer upon layer upon layer, eventually all the holes will get covered up."