Doctors speak out in support of mask-wearing

The Doctors of B.C. is applauding a provincial push for everyone to wear masks in indoor public places, on the heels of another significant increase in new daily cases of COVID-19.

“I think the evidence is clear now that wearing masks is important,” said Dr. Kathleen Ross, president of the physicians’ association.

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The province reported 217 new cases of ­COVID-19 on Tuesday, bringing the number of active cases in the province to 2,322. No new cases were reported for Island Health, which has eight active cases. No new deaths were reported.

Another 5,101 people in B.C. are being monitored for the virus and 84 people are hospitalized, 27 of whom are in intensive care.

It’s the increased hospitalizations and intensive-care stays, more than the increased number of cases, that are most concerning, said Ross.

On Monday, after a record-­breaking 817 new cases of COVID-19 over three days, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry ordered British Columbians to limit the number of people they invite to their homes to six, and called for the wearing masks in all public indoor spaces.

Henry said Tuesday that the expectation is that masks will be worn in public areas of health-care facilities, shopping malls, grocery stores, ­community centres and other public spaces.

She said public indoor spaces are “quite different” from schools, offices and businesses that have established learning and work cohorts that are supported by comprehensive COVID-19 safety plans.

“Getting through our COVID-19 storm requires all of us to do our part without exception, so let’s support each other to do the right thing,” said Henry.

The Doctors of B.C. launched its #Maskup campaign on social media two weeks ago, asking British Columbians to wear masks indoors when they can’t physically distance. Ross concedes there’s been mixed messages around masks as the pandemic has evolved and infectious-disease specialists have learned more about how the virus spreads.

She said studies around the world have demonstrated lower rises in case numbers and lower death rates in areas where mask use is common. Other studies suggest that the fewer viral particles you’re exposed to, the less severe the illness, she said.

With case counts and hospital admissions rising, “this is the time to utilize all of the tools that we have at our disposal for prevention, and cloth masks and non-medical masks are certainly just a part of that,” said Ross. She acknowledged that some people cannot wear masks for medical reasons. Doctors are also reminding people that they must wear a mask when visiting a hospital or a doctor’s office.

Since the start of the pandemic, there have been 4,476 cases of COVID-19 in the Vancouver Coastal Health region, 7,674 in the Fraser Health region, 250 in the Island Health region, 717 in the Interior Health region, 383 in the Northern Health region, and 88 cases of people who reside outside of Canada.

There have been two new health-care facilityoutbreaks, at Felburn Care Centre and St. Michael’s Centre, both in Fraser Health Authority, which has seen the majority of new cases.

In total, there are active outbreaks at 21 long-term care or assisted-living facilities and two acute-care facilities, none of which are in the Island Health region. A total of 259 people have died of COVID-19 in B.C.

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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