DoNoHarm BC, a non-partisan COVID-19 safety advocacy group, is set to host a protest on Monday aimed at returning masks to healthcare settings.
The masked protest will take place outside provincial health minister Adrian Dix’s constituency office at 12pm, with healthcare workers, patients, and caregivers set to tell their stories.
“It’s now obvious we’ve started a COVID surge with a new variant, right when flu and RSV [respiratory syncytial virus] are about to hit,” says Dr. Karina Zeidler, a family physician and cofounder of Protect Our Province BC, in a statement. “Our healthcare system is on its knees. We have the tools, and we need to use them. Not restoring mask protections to healthcare would be criminal.”
Masks became optional in healthcare settings on April 6, when provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry dropped the mask mandate. At the time, workers and patients raised their concerns that it could lead to the spread of COVID-19 to immunocompromised people in hospitals.
Removing masks from healthcare was strongly criticized by BC’s Human Rights Commissioner, Kasari Govender, who wrote, “The minor inconvenience masks cause for some must be balanced against the more profound harms to the rights of marginalized people to participate in society and, in this case, to access healthcare.”
DoNoHarm has been collecting stories from people affected by the lack of mask mandates in healthcare. As part of their Postcards for Public Health campaign, the group has encouraged people to call for a return to masks in healthcare by writing messages on postcards. These will be delivered to Dix’s office on Monday as part of the protest.
Hannah Siden, a Vancouver resident with upcoming surgery, said in a statement that the lack of masks made it impossible for her to access care safely: “My underlying condition worsened in the wake of multiple viral infections, resulting in the need for this surgery. I shouldn’t have to worry whether I’ll be given another virus and more health damage while I’m at the hospital.”
Although there are no COVID protective measures currently in place in BC, COVID-19 remains in circulation. Immunocompromised, disabled, elderly, and high-risk people are more likely to have severe health impacts from a COVID-19 infection, such as developing long COVID, requiring hospitalization, or experiencing long-term health problems—though these can happen to low-risk individuals, too.
Danielle Gauld, a healthcare worker who has both chronic and acute health conditions, is also concerned that vulnerable people are more at risk of harm due to the lack of mask mandates. “Post-mask-mandate health care has become unsafe for me, but I have no choice but to access it anyways,” she said. “No one should have to risk easily-avoidable, predictable harm for necessary care.”
Health experts have warned that fall will likely see an uptick in COVID-19 cases. The World Health Organization currently recommends that, if COVID-19 is circulating, masks be worn in healthcare settings by all workers, patients, and visitors.
“Postcards for Public Health: Delivery Day” protest
When: August 28, 12pm to 1pm
Where: Health Minister Adrian Dix’s MLA office, 5022 Joyce Street, Vancouver