A road map to reinstating indoor mask mandates in B.C. to fight the spread of COVID-19

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      (Editor's note: This article is only intended for those who've read the scientific literature demonstrating that COVID-19 is primarily transmitted by the airborne route; that N95 respirators offer better protection against aerosols than surgical or cloth masks; and that HEPA filters reduce transmission of COVID-19.)

      Every day, my Twitter feed is bursting with notifications from intelligent residents who are horrified by the B.C. government's response to COVID-19.

      Those messages increased over the past few days after the provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, announced the end of mask mandates.

      Her declaration came on the very same day a major U.S. study reported that mandatory masking reduced the spread of COVID-19 in schools.

      I've also received emails from well-educated seniors who've urged me to be much tougher on Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix.

      While that might satisfy those who believe that the B.C. government's recent decision to end mask mandates is homicidal, it has the potential to make martyrs of both of them. So I've resisted accusing them personally of spreading death and disability through their actions.

      It's the NDP government that's responsible for any fallout because ultimately, Henry reports to Dix, and Dix and the rest of cabinet report to the premier.

      Good cases can be made that the end of mask mandates is racist and ableist.

      What galls Henry and Dix's critics is that they so often fail to mention that COVID-19 is a vascular disease. Research conducted by some very bright minds has revealed the links between acute COVID to strokes, neuromuscular disorders, and psychosis, but you wouldn't know that if you attended the media briefings by Henry and Dix.

      So what can be done to alleviate the worst effects of the B.C. government's decision to lift mask mandates?

      Here are three options.

      To date, not a single Vancouver trustee has publicly criticized the end of mask mandates in local schools.
      Charlie Smith

      1. Focus on school board elections

      The health minister, provincial health officer, and, I would wager, the entire cabinet are now aware of the research on how this disease is transmitted. It's hard to ignore, given all the efforts to provide this information to them.

      Attorney General David Eby is the chief legal adviser to the cabinet under the Attorney General Act. His wife is a doctor. Eby has an exceptionally quick mind. Surely, he must have heard the chorus of complaints in his Vancouver–Point Grey constituency, which is home to so many bright academics.

      We used to think that the province's most influential NDP politicians were simply misguided—and if we just provided enough information, they would see the light.

      Now, it's time to get real. Premier John Horgan wears a respirator rather than a surgical mask and he has a mask mandate at his own news conferences. That tells you all you really need to know about his level of awareness.

      The B.C. Liberals are no better. They're happy to see the body count mount.

      It still hasn't gotten through their business-loving skulls that the end of mask mandates just might impair the retail sector because a significant portion of the population would rather stay home than risk their health by going shopping.

      The elected officials running our province have collectively decided that it was good politics to drop provincial mask mandates on transit and in public schools. It's further proof that they are endlessly in pursuit of low-information voters who are fed a steady diet of low-information media.

      But school boards can still set mask mandates, according to former school superintendent Doug Player.

      However, no trustee in the entire province has yet indicated any eagerness to do this. Most of them, unlike the provincial cabinet, are probably ignorant about the science.

      Therefore, in order to save lives, it's imperative to elect school trustees in October who will vote for the reintroduction of mask mandates in their districts.

      Creating entirely new parties with long slates is not the best way to win local elections. For new political organizations, it's much more effective to run a short slate with a compelling name.

      Here are my suggestions:

      a) Run only two candidates in each district. Call the slate "Safe Schools". If they win, they can second each other's motions. That opens up the opportunity for public meetings to discuss the issue. The resulting media coverage will help educate parents and school staff about the risks of airborne COVID-19.

      b) Find candidates who can effectively communicate the research and who have large Twitter followings. The media won't do this in any meaningful way in a school board election. Union leaders are also unlikely to offer much help, given their allegiance to the NDP government in Victoria. So the candidates will have to get the message out to the public themselves. Donald Trump won a presidential election thanks to Twitter, so don't rule out its effectiveness.

      c) If these two candidates have surnames that start with the letter "A" or "B", that's even better in districts where politicians are listed alphabetically on the ballot. Nonincumbents whose names show up higher on the ballot have  a better chance of winning.

      4) Make sure these candidates get endorsements from people with outstanding credentials in the medical and research communities.

      Many TransLink passengers continue wearing masks, but it's no longer required by the transportation authority.

      2. File a human rights complaint against TransLink

      TransLink has a pretty grim record when it comes to defending itself in court on cases involving the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

      It lost to a political organizer named Ron Churchill when it tried to ban political leafletting at its stations.

      It lost to the B.C. Teachers' Federation and the Canadian Federation of Students when the transportation authority tried to ban their advertisements from appearing on its system.

      TransLink's elimination of the mask mandate would also likely collapse in the face of a court challenge. But here's the problem: it's expensive going to court.

      An easier and less costly way to force its hand would be if transit users with asthma, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, and other health conditions bombarded the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal with discrimination complaints.

      They could make a claim under section 8(1) of the B.C. Human Rights Code that the end of the mask mandate constitutes discrimination against a person or class of persons regarding a service or facility customarily available to the public.

      To back up their complaint that the end of the mask mandate discriminates against folks with disabilities, they could include this paper from the Lancet and this 82-tweet manifesto from Oxford University professor Trisha Greenhalgh on masks.

      Similar complaints could be filed against B.C. Ferries and B.C. Transit.

      I don't hold out hope that the libertarian-minded legal profession will be of much use. It played a leading role in letting down the mentally ill, as demonstrated by the landmark book Madness in the Streets. So we can't expect the Canadian Bar Association or the B.C. Civil Liberties Association to rush to defend sick people who are more likely to die as a result of the end of mask mandates.

      UBC president Santa Ono's academic institution retained an indoor mask mandate, unlike SFU and UVic.

      3.  Convince colleges and universities to retain mask mandates

      UBC decided to keep the indoor mask mandate despite the province's decision to dump it.

      It's time for those who support UBC's effort to protect the health of its immune-compromised population to ramp up pressure on university and college boards and senior administrators to do the same everywhere else in B.C.