Protesters calling on the B.C. government to bring back face mask mandates in "high-risk" settings have gathered near a Vancouver SkyTrain station.
A group called DoNoHarm BC launched its protest at noon on Friday, April 28 at Health Minister Adrian Dix's office located 5022 Joyce St. near the Joyce-Collingwood SkyTrain station.
The protesters are calling on the Health Minister to protect vulnerable people in "high-risk" settings, such as hospitals and long-term care facilities, by bringing back a "universal" mask mandate in these places.
Demonstrators are holding masks that read: "Keep masks in health care," "Not safe not kind!," and "Say COVID is air-borne." A couple of individuals have made speeches.
The group has also characterized its demonstration as a "die-in" to highlight the implications of removing public health rules. Protesters are lying on the street near chalk outlines of bodies.
Organizers ask that everyone who attends the rally wear a mask and not attend if they have any COVID-19 symptoms or who have been exposed to anyone with the virus.
“It’s morally reprehensible for our government to remove universal masking in health care,” says protest speaker Dr. Karina Zeidler, a family physician and co-founder of the independent public health group Protect Our Province BC.
“Hospitals shouldn’t be a place where you get COVID. More people died of COVID in 2022, the year of Omicron, than any other year of the pandemic. More than 1.4 million Canadians, including healthcare workers, are suffering from the devastating effects of Long Covid. Masking is an easy, cheap, effective measure against so many infectious diseases. It keeps us all safe.”
DoNoHarm BC writes on its Facebook event page that it organized the protest following the B.C. government's announcement that it was "withdrawing both healthcare safety measures and publicly available pandemic data."
While the respiratory season is winding down in B.C., "data from the Public Health Agency of Canada, StatsCan and independent analysis shows B.C.’s COVID-19 hazards remain high," the group notes, adding that there have been COVID-19 outbreaks in hospitals since mask mandates were lifted.
Citizen Elaine speaking pic.twitter.com/Lyqr5cg2JT— DoNoHarm (BC) (@DoNoHarmBC) April 28, 2023
@sylvia_a_fuller speaking from the heart ❤️ pic.twitter.com/Je0ePFyXsL— DoNoHarm (BC) (@DoNoHarmBC) April 28, 2023
The die in begins pic.twitter.com/aPpMPVQeZ8— DoNoHarm (BC) (@DoNoHarmBC) April 28, 2023
Advocates hope to change B.C. COVID-19 face mask rules in health care settings
B.C. officials lifted the mandatory mask policy on July 1, 2022 but public health officials encouraged people to continue to wear them in public while indoors, particularly on public transit.
In October 2022, a coalition of groups called on the B.C. government to reinstate the face mask mandate in indoor public spaces.
But the universal masking requirement in hospitals lifted roughly a year later, with B.C.'s top doctor announcing the change on April 6.
While Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry clarified that masks would still be required in some settings, advocates say that the new rules put vulnerable patients at risk.
DoNoHarmBC has encouraged people to sign a Canada-wide Change.org petition calling on hospitals to maintain mask mandates. As of this writing, over 20,000 people have signed it.
In January, the B.C. government said it "accidentally" published new advice on face masks. In the "draft" webpage that was published, public health "recommends" people to wear masks "in all public indoor spaces" but also noted that wearing one is a personal choice.
The ministry said an old "archived" webpage was published but that it did not have plans to change the guidance.