After B.C. scraps mask mandates, Premier John Horgan describes COVID-19 as an airborne disease

That's prompted one teacher to say she's looking forward to the reinstatement of mandatory masks

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      There's been a great deal of frustration among some healthcare workers and educators over the B.C. government's approach to COVID-19.

      At the centre of this has been the reluctance of health authorities to accept that COVID-19 is mainly transmitted by the airborne route.

      "Reducing airborne transmission of virus requires measures to avoid inhalation of infectious aerosols, including ventilation, air filtration, reducing crowding and time spent indoors, use of masks whenever indoors, attention to mask quality and fit, and higher-grade protection for health-care staff and front-line workers," wrote six researchers in a paper published in the Lancet last year.

      Four of the authors of that paper have publicly criticized the B.C. government and/or the health authorities for refusing to take actions to prevent the spread of a virus primarily transmitted through the air.

      So it came as a surprise to a teacher who's read the science, Jennifer Heighton, to hear Premier John Horgan finally describe COVID-19 as an airborne disease.

      Horgan made this comment in an interview this weekend with Global B.C.'s Richard Zussman.

      "Teachers have been right in the centre of it because when you put a whole bunch of people in one room for a whole day when you're talking about a disease—an airborne disease—this is a challenge," Horgan said. "It's created stresses in the lives of teachers and their families. It's created stresses in the lives of parents and their kids.

      "And so is there a need to compensate that?" the premier continued. "Or is there a need to better understand where we can make investments in HVAC systems within our old and our new schools?"

      Heighton, a cofounder of Safe Schools Coalition B.C., responded to Horgan's remarks by tweeting that educators are looking forward to the government reinstating mandatory masks and supporting HEPA filters in classrooms.

      Horgan's comments came after health journalist Adriana Barton accused him of hypocrisy for imposing a mask mandate at one of his news conferences the day after his government had scrapped provincewide mask mandates.

      Droplet dogma remains entrenched

      Dating back to the early months of the pandemic, papers have been published explaining why COVID-19 is primarily transmitted through the air. The World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control eventually accepted this as a scientific fact.

      Yet as recently as last month, Vancouver Coastal Health's chief medical officer, Dr. Patricia Daly, insisted that there remains a great debate over airborne COVID-19.

      And this month, the Vancouver Island Health Authority claimed that COVID-19 is a "droplet spread organism" (while acknowledging that there are procedures that may cause droplets to disperse as fine aerosols).

      This VIHA comment flew in the face of the Lancet paper.

      It also contradicted what one of the Lancet article authors, University of Colorado Boulder atmospheric chemist Jose-Luis Jimenez, told Protect Our Province B.C. last month. Below, you can see a slide that he presented regarding myths and facts about aerosols.

      Atmospheric chemist Jose-Luis Jimenez showed this slide in a recent presentation to Protect Our Province B.C. to educate doctors about aerosols.

      Last year, Jimenez also coauthored a paper in Science describing mechanisms of airborne transmission.

      He and the other authors challenged the view that several respiratory pathogens primarily spread between people through large droplets produced in coughs.

      Yet six months after publication of that paper, the health authorities appear to remain intransigent, clinging to droplet dogma in connection with COVID-19 and discouraging HEPA filters in classrooms.

      It's not a mere theoretical debate. If health officials accept that COVID-19 is primarily spread through airborne transmission, it has implications when it comes to mask mandates, installing HEPA filters in classrooms, and whether employers should be encouraging people to work from home.

      Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix have steadfastly refused to say that COVID-19 is primarily spread through airborne transmission in the manner outlined by atmospheric chemists such as Jimenez and Kimberly Prather. She's director of the Center for Aerosol Impacts on Chemistry of the Evironment at the University of California San Diego.

      It was on March 10 that Henry and Dix announced the end of provincial mask mandates.

      UBC chose to retain its indoor mask mandate, but virtually every other public body—including TransLink, B.C. Transit, B.C. Ferries, and other colleges and universities—no longer require noses and mouths to be covered indoors.

      Horgan's recent comments to Zussman didn't address another concern articulated by the government's well-educated critics. And that's the fact that COVID-19 is routinely described as a respiratory infection by Henry when it's actually been associated with a wide range of medical conditions.

      In some cases, it leads to neurological problems, including strokes. It's also been linked to blood-vessel damage, organ failure, and heart attacks, according to the U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

      Below, you can read what some people are saying over social media about governments scrapping mask mandates and other measures intended to reduce the spread of COVID-19.