Explainer: Vancouver opts out of implementing mandatory mask policy

Vancouver City Hall. (wikimedia.commons)

Vancouver City Councillors opted for using the phrase “strongly encouraged” instead of “mandatory”  when it comes to face mask policies in indoor facilities during a council meeting held on Oct. 20.

With B.C.’s anticipation for the second wave of COVID-19, it was proposed that face masks should be worn inside indoor premises of civic facilities as a health and safety requirement. This policy is already being implemented inside many recreation and culture facilities across the province, libraries, city halls, and in public transportation including TransLink, BC Ferries, and BC Transit.

A motion to require mandatory-mask coverings by Councillor Sarah Kirby-Yung was supported by 171 doctors and health professionals to implement basic regulations for everyone’s safety. Dr. Anna Wolak, a family physician, told CTV that adding an extra layer of protection against the virus can help in containing the transmission of the virus among people.

Other individuals who approve include the Head of Division for Infectious Diseases at St. Paul’s Hospital, Dr. Val Montessori, who expressed her support for this policy.

“We cannot afford another ‘lockdown’ which leads to devastating effects on individuals and society. We need to act now and focus on improving our use of all basic interventions to reduce both transmission, and severity of illness from COVID-19,” she told The Vancouver Sun.

The organization Masks4Canada also published an open letter addressed to Vancouver City Council supporting the proposal for temporary mask mandates.

“We recognize that non-medical masks, cloth face coverings, and surgical/medical masks are not 100% effective in protecting against respiratory viruses including SARS-CoV-2. However, the emerging data strongly support the effectiveness of masks for protecting ourselves and others from developing COVID-19,” reads the letter.

However, some people opposed the idea of a mask-wearing policy. Dozens of anti-mask protestors gathered outside the meeting expressing their strong concerns regarding the matter.

Vancouver Coastal Health’s Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Patricia Daly, and Deputy Medical Health Officer Dr. Mark Lysyshyn, outlined their position against mandating masks in another open letter.

“Given the excellent COVID-19 safety plans in place at city facilities, and the relatively low rate of COVID-19 infection in the local population, there is no justification for a mandatory, non-medical mask policy in City of Vancouver facilities at this time and we strongly recommend that it not be pursued,” states the letter reported by the Daily Hive.

Some speakers also said that a mandatory mask policy isn’t needed in B.C. because the incidence rate is decreasing and existing safety measures are working, adding that forcing people to wear masks may impose a financial burden on those who cannot afford masks.

Councillor Christine Boyle amended Kirby-Yung’s original motion of making masks mandatory, instead, masks will be “strongly encouraged.” This decision gives individuals the choice to wear or not wear masks in civic facilities.

Businesses are still allowed to run with “no mask, no service” policies. Any other establishment that wishes to have a mandatory mask-wearing policy in place will need independent approval from their respective boards such as the Vancouver Library Board and Vancouver Park Board.


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