Friday marks two weeks since British Columbia dropped its COVID-19 mask mandate, but there are growing calls for it to be reinstated.
The Safe Schools Coalition, a grassroots group of parents and educators, has penned a letter to education officials asking for a return to mandatory masking, as spring break comes to an end for most students.
“We are seeing students and families that are at risk, who are very concerned about putting their students back into a classroom where there are very few precautions or protections in place,” coalition spokesperson Kyenta Martins said.
“We have seen very few updates to ventilation and filtration in classrooms, and that’s only in certain districts. Masks really was our one true protection, and that’s been removed.”
The group is not alone in calling for a second look at mask policy, amid concerns about another potential wave of COVID-19 driven by the Omicron BA.2 sub-variant.
The University of Victoria is also currently mulling the possibility masking back up.
The university’s senate recently voted 23-19 in favour of reinstating a mandatory mask policy on campus.
“So, finishing off the semester as we’ve been used to it,” UVic senator Sophia Crabbe explained. “With masks being required in all indoor public areas on campus.”
To take effect, that measure would need to be approved by the university’s president and board of governors.
In Metro Vancouver, TransLink has also faced pressure after removing its mask policy in concert with the province.
At the transit and transportation authority’s board meeting Thursday, executives faced pressure from delegates calling for the measure to be reinstated.
While key metrics including new cases and hospitalizations have trended steadily downward in B.C. in recent weeks, the global spread of Omicron BA.2, which is believed to be even more transmissible than the original Omicron variant has some experts concerned.
In its latest report last week, the independent B.C. COVID-19 Modelling Group projected that the new variant coupled with waning vaccine immunity and the relaxation of public health measures would lead to another wave, though milder than the one recorded at the start of the year.
“We could get to as many as half the infections in the BA.2 wave as in the BA.1 wave, but there’s a lot of uncertainty,” UBC mathematical biologist and modelling group member Sarah Otto told Global News.
“The main uncertainty is just how much contact and risks people face going forward, how much they go into crowded spaces without masks, in indoor environments without high ventilation.”
Despite the pressure from some quarters, B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said there were no plans to bring a mask mandate back in the short term.
Dix said the province continues to recommend mask-wearing, but that with hospitalizations at a quarter of their volume at the peak of the Omicron wave and key indicators falling, the advice from public health is that legally requiring them is not necessary.
“The advice remains the same. I’m wearing a mask, I wear a mask in a grocery store, I wear a mask in a restaurant unless I’m eating, and I wear a mask in indoor public spaces and I’ll continue to do so,” Dix said.
“That doesn’t mean they’ll never come back. If there’s anything we’ve learned in this time it’s that we have to consistently adapt and learn … the COVID-19 pandemic, and the COVID-19 virus, will have more surprises for us. And we’re going to have to deal with those in the months to come.”
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