Masks will no longer be mandatory while riding either of B.C.'s major public transit providers after health officials announced the repeal of the provincial mask mandate.
As of 12:01 a.m. on Friday (March 11), the order requiring masks in all indoor public spaces will be lifted.
TransLink says it will align with the new guidelines announced by Dr. Bonnie Henry but will still continue its mandatory mask policy for customers and employees on HandyDART.
"TransLink is following the guidance of British Columbia’s provincial health officer," a release states.
"We are also working closely with Transport Canada and WorkSafeBC to ensure we are meeting all safety and regulatory requirements across all modes of our transit system."
TransLink adds customers and employees are still welcome to wear masks while on-board its vehicles and at transit stations, depending on their own level of comfort.
The company also says customers might notice mandatory mask-related signage on the system even after the order is lifted as it will take time for crews to finish removing signs.
In a statement to the NOW, BC Transit says it will also align its policies with the province and masks will no longer be required, adding it supports riders who choose to continue to wear face coverings.
"Safety is our top priority," the company states.
"BC Transit will take the appropriate steps necessary to ensure our return to pre-pandemic service is done safely for our employees and customers. We continue at this time to have other COVID-19 safety policies in place, such as enhanced cleaning and sanitization on buses and at BC Transit facilities, protective barriers for transit operators, and one-way flow of passengers on board the buses."
When asked at a news briefing if transit companies could still require masks to be mandatory, Henry said workplaces that feel it is important to keep COVID-19 pandemic safety measures in place would be able to do so.
"Some places may feel that it's important for their workers to be protected for various reasons. And they can require mask-wearing," she explained.
"Those environments where we were requiring to have multiple different layers of protection, we no longer need all of those layers to be mandated all of the time."
Petition to keep masks mandatory on B.C. public transit garners more than 1,500 signatures
A Change.org petition by Daryl Dela Cruz, addressed to provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, Health Minister Adrian Dix, Premier John Horgan, BC Transit and TransLink, says while other jurisdictions have moved ahead with lifting mask mandates and vaccination requirements, many have continued to require that masks be worn on transit.
"Over the last few weeks, we have seen other provinces in Canada and the United States lift mask-wearing and vaccination requirements in public spaces, in response to a drop in COVID-19 cases," the petition says.
"However, almost all of these jurisdictions have made one important exception: they continue to require masks and face coverings on public transit buses, trains, ferries, taxis and ride-share vehicles.
"This includes our two next-door neighbours, Alberta and Washington State, who have both specifically indicated that public transit and ride-share vehicles are still subject to a mask mandate because they are 'high-risk settings.'"
The petition states public health officials should consider seven factors when making a decision on masks, including:
- public transit vehicles not being subject to vaccine requirements;
- ridership possibly increasing as gas prices hit record highs; and
- allergy season.
Respect others and their decision around mask use: Henry
Henry also announced B.C.'s post-secondary residence vaccine requirement would be lifted on April 8 — the same day the province is ending the vaccine card.
And while masks will no longer be mandated, she still encourages wearing masks in settings where people are in close quarters.
Henry asked British Columbians to respect people's comfort levels.
"We all have our own risk, and we may not be aware of the risks of those around us... We need to be respectful about people's choices to keep their gatherings small or to stay outside rather than inside."
She said people should continue to monitor themselves for symptoms, stay home if they're feeling unwell, get tested, wash their hands and get their booster if they haven't already done so.
She added B.C. is moving from a mandated approach to an empowered, self-management approach, citing that people now know the basics of being COVID-19 safe.
With files from Carol Eugene Park, Glacier Media