In response to rising case numbers across BC and many children and young adults returning to school, several new COVID-19 restrictions were announced by the provincial government over the past two days.
These measures, according to Henry, are meant to allow for in-person learning and discretionary events such as concerts, sporting events, and indoor dining to continue “in a way that is safe for the vast majority of people who have been immunized.”
“While we have made incredible progress in our shared efforts to be vaccinated and to put this pandemic behind us, in the broader community as you know, we are seeing increased transmission and increasing levels of transmission,” Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said during a live press conference.
There have been a lot of changes introduced, so here’s everything you need to know about COVID-19 restrictions in BC.
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Earlier this week, the provincial government reinstated its mandatory mask mandate in response to increased transmission across different communities. Starting August 25, people 12 and older will be required to wear masks in the following indoor settings, regardless of vaccination status:
- Malls, shopping centres, coffee shops and retail and grocery stores
- Liquor and drug stores
- Airports, city halls, libraries, community and recreation centres
- Restaurants, pubs and bars (unless seated)
- Public transportation, in a taxi or ride-sharing vehicle
- Areas of office buildings where services to the public are provided
- Common areas of sport and fitness centres when not engaged in physical activity
- Common areas of post-secondary institutions and non-profit organizations
- Inside schools for all K-12 staff, visitors and students in grades 4-12
According to Henry, this is a temporary measure that will be monitored alongside the BC Vaccine Card. Individuals who can’t wear a mask or put on or remove a mask without the assistance of others will be exempt.
Masks can be removed temporarily in indoor public spaces when needed to identify the individual, consume food or beverage, when participating in a sport or fitness activity at a sports facility, or receiving a personal or health service that requires the mask to be removed.
In the coming weeks, the province will launch a COVID-19 vaccine dubbed the BC Vaccine Card. The initiative was announced on Monday and will be required to access certain social, recreational, and discretionary events and businesses.
Proof of vaccination will be required in BC starting September 13; residents over the age of 12 will need to have at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. By October 24, people will be required to have two doses of the vaccine, and at least seven days will need to pass since their second dose.
And although it’s a temporary measure, Henry says that there will be “no exceptions” for the card, including those who may have a medical reason.
“This is a temporary measure that’s getting us through a risky period where we know that people who are unvaccinated are at greater risk of contracting and spreading this virus,” she explained earlier this week. “So if there are those rare people who have a medical reason why they can’t be immunized, these are discretionary events that we are talking about. So they will not be able to attend those events through this period of time of high risk. There are no exemptions for other reasons, as well.”
The only “exemption” that exists now is for children under the age of 12 who are not yet eligible for vaccination.
The BC Vaccine Card will also be compatible with travellers coming in from out of province, both domestic and international.
So just what exactly does the BC Vaccine Card allow you to access? Here’s a list of activities so far, provided by the provincial government:
- Indoor ticketed sporting events
- Indoor concerts
- Indoor theatre dance and symphony events
- Restaurants (indoor and patio dining)
- Movie theatres
- Fitness centres and gyms (excluding youth recreational sports)
- Businesses offering indoor high-intensity group exercise activities
- Organized indoor events (weddings, parties, conferences, meetings, workshops)
- Discretionary organized indoor group recreational classes and activities
How indoor mask wearing and the BC Vaccine Card will apply to post-secondary students
When it comes to students and staff in post-secondary institutions across the province, the mask mandate will apply to all indoor spaces, such as classrooms and common areas.
The BC Vaccine Card will also affect a number of aspects of student life, including housing and on-campus activities. For the University of British Columbia (UBC) proof of vaccination will be required for participation in varsity and intramural sports, and student clubs. On-campus housing will also require immunization, and proof of vaccination in student housing will come into effect earlier than other measures.
“Student housing will also be a part of the public health order,” President and Vice-Chancellor Santa J. Ono explained in a statement. “The requirement for proof of vaccination in student housing will come into effect on September 7, 2021.”
In the case of UBC, the institution says they’re working on a transition period beyond September 7, specifically for students who arrive from outside of the province.
When school returns in September, mask usage in indoor spaces will be mandatory for all teachers and the vast majority of students.
Children and teenagers in K-12 will be returning for full-time, in-person learning. School staff that work with students from K-12, and students in grade 4 or above, will be required to wear masks while indoors.
This measure will include areas such as classrooms and school buses. Mask usage while indoors will be recommended for students between K to 3 but will not be mandatory.
In addition to the province-wide measures announced, regional measures will also apply when in effect. Orders can also be used for specific schools, groups of schools, or a full regional district.
Henry noted that the best way to protect children under the age of 12 who can’t be immunized is for the adults around them to be vaccinated themselves. This was also brought up when Henry was asked about why students between K-3, who may be used to wearing face masks indoors, weren’t being mandated to use them while in class.
When the provincial government revealed details surrounding the health measures for K-12 and post-secondary learning in British Columbia, a question was raised — why wasn’t the province making COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for staff and eligible students?
Especially since earlier this month, it was announced by health officials that full vaccination would be mandatory for healthcare workers at long-term care homes and assisted living facilities.
According to Henry, the decision to not mandate COVID-19 immunizations for staff and eligible students was “proportional to the risk.”
“This is one of those things where there are a whole bunch of different factors that are in play around vaccine mandates,” she explained. “We’ve talked about this a little bit where it is an important difference in outcomes at risk if you will.”
Henry stressed that even with the absence of vaccines over the previous year, schools were a safe setting where the risk of COVID-19 transmission was “very low.” In contrast, however, virus transmission can have much more fatal consequences in areas such as long-term care and assisted living homes.
“We know that once the virus is introduced in the long-term care setting, even fully-vaccinated elderly seniors may become infected and can be lethally infected by this virus,” she explained. “We saw this over the weekend where we had 10 people in long-term care succumb to COVID-19.”
When it comes to BC’s post-secondary sector, the provincial government says that each institution will have the authority to make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for its staff.