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171 B.C. doctors, dentists sign letter to City of Vancouver supporting mandatory mask use

The same group previously petitioned the provincial government to adopt a mandatory face-mask policy in August.
Photo: face masks / Getty Images

A group of B.C. doctors and dentists – the same group that previously petitioned the provincial government to adopt a mandatory face-mask policy in August – has put its support behind a Vancouver city councillor’s proposal to make masks mandatory in civic facilities.

Masks4Canada has sent a letter containing the signatures of 171 doctors, dentists and medical academics from institutions like the University of British Columbia, St. Paul’s Hospital, Royal Columbia Hospital, B.C. Women’s Hospital and Vancouver General Hospital to Vancouver City Council, asking the municipality to support Sarah Kirby-Yung’s mandatory-masks motion.

The motion, brought forward on Oct. 14, is set to be heard at council meetings Tuesday.

“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,” the Masks4Canada letter, published earlier this morning, said. “However, the emerging data strongly support the effectiveness of masks for protecting ourselves and others from developing COVID-19.

“It is important to understand that the effect of masks on this pandemic is a population-level outcome where individual-level interventions have an aggregate effect on the community,” the letter continued. “... We understand that there are perceived harms associated with mandatory mask policies. While we are aware of some potential challenges with mandates, the masking policy can be delivered effectively using harm reduction approaches to ensure high adherence.”

Opinions on whether masks should be mandatory are heavily divided in B.C. and throughout the world. Back on Oct. 13, Vancouver Coastal Health chief medical health officer Patricia Daly and deputy chief medical health officer Mark Lysyshyn wrote a separate letter to city council opposing a mandatory mask regulation, noting existing safety plans in civic buildings are enough “given 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,” Daly and Lysyshyn’s letter said.

Kirby-Yung said herself that the motion is about “taking all the possible precautions” that the city can in the face of the re-emerging COVID-19 infection trends in B.C. and Metro Vancouver. Her motion included an SFU study that showed a 25% or larger drop in weekly COVID-19 cases in 34 public health units in Ontario that mandated mask use.

The Masks4Canada letter added that the move to mandate masks also has an economic, social and mental impact component.

“We cannot afford another “lockdown” which leads to devastating effects on individuals and society,” the letter said. “... We need to strengthen our approaches to prevention to reduce risk of facing another significant closure of facilities in Vancouver.” 

- With files from Mike Howell

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