Home Health COVID-19 Recommendation to use masks appropriately in respiratory season

Recommendation to use masks appropriately in respiratory season

1.2 million British Columbians age 12+ have received their fall COVID booster shot (96% of those bivalent)

adrian dix, bonnie henry, PHO
Fall respiratory update by Health Minister Adrian Dix and Provincial Health Officer Dr Bonnie Henry, Nov 16, 2022 in Victoria. [IST composite]

Wednesday November 16, 2022 | VICTORIA, BC (Updated November 17, 2022)

by Mary P Brooke, B.Sc. | Island Social Trends

Using masks during the fall/winter respiratory season was emphasized in a livestreamed media update today by Provincial Health Officer Dr Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix.

No mask mandate was issued as British Columbians head into a triple-whammy respiratory season with COVID, influenza, and RSV viruses circulating in the population.

Masks still recommended:

“Masks still need to be available and acceptable in workplaces,” said Dr Henry today. But there was no issuance of a mask mandate, with Dr Henry saying that approach would be “too heavy” at this stage of the COVID-19 pandemic (which has pretty much become endemic).

dr henry, pho, nov 2022
Provincial Health Officer Dr Bonnie Henry gave a respiratory season update on Nov 16, 2022. [livestream]

The use of masks, when appropriate, was the overall recommendation said Dr Henry, adding: “We are in a different place” compared to previous years of the pandemic. She said we’re seeing “the return of common respiratory viruses”.

“COVID is in that mix together with influenza and RSV and a number of other respiratory viruses,” said Dr Henry.

The priority remains “protecting people who are at highest risk”, she said, while “bringing people safely back together again” as part of the overall rubric of health which includes social contact.

She did not single out or prioritize schools as a place to wear masks, saying children have endured much of the brunt of pandemic regulations. She said that every school has had a “ventilation assessment”. She said a committee meets weekly to assess absenteeism (as related to illness).

Common sense about preventing viral spread:

Dr Henry and Minister Dix repeated the now common list of things to help prevent spread of respiratory viruses, including:

  • wear a mask to protect self and others if someone in your household is not well, or if you’re in a crowded indoor space (including events, public transit, retail areas)
  • wash hands frequently
  • follow respiratory etiquette (sneeze into elbow, dispose of tissues properly)
  • avoid touching your face
  • stay home if you’re not well

BC Greens asking for mandate:

The BC Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau afterward asked for a mask mandate in BC, particularly in indoor public spaces including schools.

sonia furstenau, bc greens
BC Greens Leader Sonia Furstenau (web)

The BC Greens quoted a non-partisan health care expert, Dr Sanjiv Gandhi, Clinical Professor of Surgery at UBC School of Medicine, Pediatric Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgeon (former chief) at BC Children’s Hospital. “The convergence of multiple respiratory pathogens and altered population immunity has resulted in a significant increase in viral infections in children across Canada. British Columbia is not exempt,” said Dr Gandhi.

“Let’s do what we need to in the moment we’re in to protect our children,” said Furstenau, a former school teacher.

Changing the trajectory:

“This is resulting in more sick kids,” said Dr Gandhi. “Some need to stay home from school, adding to parental pressures, some require medical attention, and some require hospital admission.”

“We must do whatever whatever is necessary now to change the trajectory,” he said, specifying that masking be required — not suggested — for use in public settings, schools, and on mass transit.”

Individual decision-making:

Today Dr Henry mentioned people using their own common sense as to when and where to wear masks, including attention to ventilation and the size of indoor room spaces. She doesn’t see how a mandate would work at this phase of the pandemic (COVID is becoming endemic now).

seaparc, family night, 2022

Dr Henry today did mention attention to ventilation and spacing in a room (as people decide about whether or not to wear a mask). She recommended holding holiday season gatherings outdoors if possible, and to stay home from festivities if not feeling well.

Today Dr Gandhi stated about “deploying effective technologies to improve indoor air quality” as a necessary health measure.

Vaccinations important:

Today Dr Henry emphasized the importance of vaccination against COVID and influenza, as powerful tools against becoming infected and minimizing the impact of infection (reducing the incidence of sever illness, hospitalization or death).

vaccine, nov 2022
Age-standardized hospitalizations, critical care admissions and deaths by vaccination status: Jan 1 to Nov 5, 2022. [BC Health]

Currently over 90% of people age 12+ in BC have received two doses or more doses of the COVID vaccine.

Today Dr Henry said that currently over 1.2 million British Columbians age 12+ have received their fall booster shot. That’s 24% of the BC population, of which 96% received the bivalent mRNA vaccine (Moderna and Pfizer shots have been made available).

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About half (51%) of children in BC have their first does of COVID vaccine, said Dr Henry. She made no further comment on that but seemed to feel it could be higher.

As was heard often during the height of the COVID pandemic, being vaccinated reduces a person’s risk of getting COVID, and/or incidence of severe illness, hospitalization or death.

Dr Henry said today there is less incidence of long-COVID as more people are vaccinated and have some level of immunity.

She urges people to get a flu shot as well this fall. She says the COVID and flu shots can be done at the same time.

Vaccination services are available at public health clinics, pharmacies and doctor’s offices.

vaccination, nov 2022, covid, flu
Vaccination status for COVID (to Nov 6/22) and flu (to Nov 13/22) in BC. [BC Centre for Disease Control]
bc health, respiratory
Visits to health care provider in BC by age (Oct 2021 to Nov 2022). [BC Health]

Media update:

Today’s media update regarding COVID and respiratory illness in BC was the first in a long while, as noted by Dr Henry at the beginning of her livestreamed presentation to news media today.

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===== RELATED:

No mention of hand sanitizers in PHO fall respiratory update (November 16, 2022)

COVID ARCHIVE (Island Social Trends)