COVID-19: Province drops mask requirement for TransLink, B.C. Ferries, most public spaces

Vaccine cards will remain in place until April 8, though businesses can still demand them

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      B.C. has dropped its mask requirement for public transit users, B.C. Ferries passengers, and users of most indoor public spaces as of midnight Thursday (March 10).

      The decision to end the order was announced by B.C. public health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry during a live March 10 telecast and in an emailed bulletin.

      Henry also announced that the provincial vaccine card for nonessential businesses, services, and events will remain in effect as mandated until April 8. That date will be flexible, depending on future pandemic conditions, and businesses or organizations can still decide to require the cards after that date.

      The order for churches and faith gatherings to restrict attendance depending on vaccination status will be repealed as of midnight March 10 as well.

      As of Monday, March 28, K-12 students returning from spring break will no longer be required to wear masks in certain settings (some B.C. school districts may have different return dates).

      The province is supporting students and staff who wish "to continue to use masks and other layers of protection based on their own comfort and risk factors", the release noted.

      UBC announced in a March 10 tweet that it will continue to require masks in all indoor common spaces on its two campuses until April 30, the end of its 2021-'22 winter session.

      SFU vice president, academic, and provost Catherine Dauvergne said in an update posted on the SFU website March 10 that the university will no longer require masks but will "at this time" encourage their use, "particularly in spaces where we are in close proximity".

      (The mask-order repeal does not apply to federally regulated indoor spaces and workplaces, such as Vancouver International Airport.)

      Private businesses and organizations can still require patrons to wear masks. "We need to recognize that we all have our own risks and our own vulnerabilities," Henry said during the telecast.

      Masks will still be mandatory in all healthcare settings, but as of March 18, visitors to long-term care facilities will not have their numbers restricted, though they will still have to be fully vaccinated and screened.

      "Vaccines are the primary tool in our toolbox for managing COVID-19 in the long term and people have stepped up in a big way to get vaccinated, which has made a huge difference in creating high levels of immunity and protection across the province," Henry, said in the release. "As we move through this transition period and lift restrictions, we encourage people to respect the comfort levels of those around them."

      Guidelines for childcare facilities and settings are being revised, the bulletin said.

      Businesses that fell under the requirements of the Workplace Safety Order, which mandated masks for employees in common areas, can retain masks "for operational reasons or in certain settings", the bulletin said.

      In crowded public settings such as ferries and public transit, mask use will still be encouraged, Henry said.

      A March 10 TransLink news release confirming the dropping of the mask requirement said that the B.C. transportation authority still welcomes customers and staff "to continue wearing masks on-board transit vehicles and at transit stations, depending on their own level of comfort".

      TransLink also said that masks will still be mandatory on HandyDART vehicles, due to many of the travel service's reservations being made for medical appointments. A future date for dropping this requirement will be arrived at after consultation with stakeholders and provincial health authorities, TransLink said.

      Although Ontario is dropping most mask and other pandemic mandates as of the end of its spring break, on March 21, the Toronto Transit Commission said in a March 9 tweet that it would be continuing to require masks on public transit until at least April 27.

      And Alberta kept its mandatory-mask order for public transit after it recently dropped most other pandemic precautions; the decision is dependent upon continued decreasing hospitalization rates for COVID-19 cases.

      "I recognize the changes we're announcing today will make some people very uncomfortable," Henry said during the telecast. "It has been a long and trying two years. Our masks and other safety layers have provided a level of protection for all of us, and it's why it's important for everybody to move at our own pace."

      Henry went on to describe the order repeal as an "empowered, self-management approach". She added that she will still wear a mask on public transit for the time being.