Just because you can now take your mask off indoors in British Columbia doesn’t mean you have to.
That’s the message from Dr. Bonnie Henry, who told Daily Hive in an interview she plans to continue wearing hers in most locations for at least the next couple of weeks, even though she lifted the mandatory requirement for masks as of Friday.
“I’m vaccinated, I’ve got my booster dose, I don’t have any underlying risk factors, I don’t have any people in my household who are at risk, but I will be wearing a mask when I go to grocery stores, pharmacies and some of the smaller shops,” she said Friday.
“I will wear a mask when I go to a restaurant, but probably won’t worry about it if I’m getting up to go to the bathroom… everyone in the restaurant is vaccinated, so that mitigates the risk as well.”
Dr. Henry said she’ll keep a mask on partly as a personal preference but also in recognition that other people in stores or on public transit are anxious about taking theirs off because they might be at higher risk or uncomfortable.
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“The other reason that I will continue to wear a mask and some of those settings is respect for others because I know there’s still a lot of anxiety out there,” she said. “And people who have to use transit or people who are feeling quite vulnerable in the grocery store.
“This is really what I was trying to message to people, that we need to recognize that we’ve been through this storm together, but we’ve not all been in the same boat, and there are still a lot of people who are anxious, particularly older people where this virus has been so devastating.
“So yeah, I’ll be giving people a respectful distance in the grocery store, and I’ll be wearing my mask.”
Although BC no longer requires masks indoors in most locations (they’ll still be required at healthcare facilities), its proof-of-vaccine card will remain in place at many businesses until April 8. That provides confidence for people as they choose to transition off of masks, she said.
Some people are divided on whether they’re ready to give up masks entirely. And individual businesses can continue to require them for staff and customers if they want.
“There’s some people who are really nervous about it,” said Dr. Henry.
“A lot of people in my life, particularly older people, people who have young children who are not yet able to be vaccinated, or people who are going through cancer treatments where they are immune-compromised, there is a great deal of anxiety.
“Part of that is because we have been so focused on telling people that we need to protect them from COVID, and Omicron has changed that quite a bit. So with vaccination, and then over Omicron can mean a milder infection, particularly in people who are vaccinated, we’ve sort of boosted our immunity. So yeah, there’s a group of people who are really anxious, and that’s why we tried to steer this at a time where the risk is low for everybody in the community.”
Students will be able to remove masks once they return from spring break.
“There is a group of people that are just ready to let it go and especially younger people,” said Dr. Henry.
“I see younger people where they’ve had so much disruption of their lives, and the universities were online for a year, and we finally got them back, and where job prospects have been challenging because venues they would normally work at have been limited or closed, so it really was trying to support them to get back to a more normal environment and recognizing that a lot of younger people really lost a lot in the last year and a half.”
Despite the big step back to normal, Dr. Henry also said she remains quite busy working to help school districts, the post-secondary sector and early childhood educators navigate the changes in the days ahead.
Although the regular public COVID-19 briefings have ended after two years of weekly broadcasts, Dr. Henry said there’s still a lot of behind-the-scenes work to do. If she has any additional time, she plans to use it to continue to focus on the toxic drug crisis and public health emergency into overdose deaths.
“In the short-term, I’m still going to be really, really busy and my six days a week working,” she said.
“There’s lots of bits and pieces that we’re still watching very carefully, and we’re building up our surveillance system for what’s going to happen next.
“There’s a lot of thinking that we need to do about the things that we’ve learned and planning for the scenarios that could come next.”