UBC health-policy expert Steve Morgan castigates governments for scrapping mask mandates

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      There's a growing chorus of criticism over the elimination of mask mandates just as a new subvariant of Omicron is spreading rapidly.

      "Whether someone wears a mask at school or work right now shouldn't be political, it should be policy!" tweeted Steve Morgan, a professor in UBC's School of Population and Public Health. "Banking on goodwill in individualism—while knowing BA.2 is taking off—is magical thinking that will result in avoidable deaths, disability, and health system strain. Do better."

      Morgan is an Emmett Hall Laureate "for his contributions to health system equity, justice, and efficiency", according to his UBC profile.

      SFU PhD student and health-policy researcher Andrew Longhurst has also criticized the end of mask mandates.

      "Masks are/have been essential to mitigating uncontrolled transmission," Longhurst declared over Twitter. "Absent masks and systemic testing and ventilation improvements, covid infections are likely to occur 3+ times/year. Roll the dice each time with #LongCovid disability, brain damage, clotting, heart damage."

      The BA.2 subvariant of Omicron is reportedly showing up in much larger concentrations in Saskatchewan wastewater in three cities, prompting fears of a new wave of COVID-19 in that province.

      It's also on the rise in many other jurisdictions, including B.C., as demonstrated by a chart released by the B.C. Centre for Disease Control on March 18.

      In the bottom right of the chart, the dark red shows the recent rise of the BA.2 subvariant of Omicron in B.C.

      According to the World Health Organization, the BA.2 subvariant has a different genetic sequence from BA.1. This includes "some amino acid differences in the spike protein and other proteins".

      "Studies have shown that BA.2 has a growth advantage over BA.1," the WHO states on its website. "Studies are ongoing to understand the reasons for this growth advantage, but initial data suggest that BA.2 appears inherently more transmissible than BA.1, which currently remains the most common Omicron sublineage reported."

      The B.C. government announced the end of mask mandates on March 10. That was the same day that a large U.S. study reported that mandatory masking resulted in 72 percent fewer transmissions of COVID-19 in schools in comparison with districts that had optional masking.

      On March 22, the B.C. Ministry of Health reported that there are 271 people hospitalized with COVID-19, including 49 who are in intensive care.

      Over the past three days, there were eight more deaths in B.C. from COVID-19, bringing the provincial total to 2,974 since March 2020.

      Meanwhile, B.C. premier John Horgan's recent acknowledgement that COVID-19 is an airborne illness has prompted a flurry of remarks on Twitter.