Do No Harm BC to stage a die-in protesting end of hospital mask mandate

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      A new COVID-19 protection advocacy group is staging a protest on Friday to demand the return of universal masking in healthcare settings like hospitals and long-term care. 

      Do No Harm BC, which was created in response to provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry’s decision to drop masks in healthcare settings on April 6, is hosting a die-in outside Health Minister Adrian Dix’s constituency office at noon.

      A die-in, long used as a form of protest and popularized by ACT UP’s AIDS demonstrations in the 1980s, involves participants lying down in public and pretending to be dead in order to create a spectacle and generate conversation.

      "Getting rid of masking means I can't safely get the care I need," Michael Coyle, who received a kidney transplant in 2020, said in a press release from the group. "I need regular follow-up care, and because I'm immunocompromised, getting Covid in hospital is a massive risk… Right now, one of my greatest health risks is accessing medical care."

      Dr. Karina Zeidler, a family physician who co-founded Protect Our Province BC, is set to speak at the protest. In an interview, she told the Straight that keeping masks in healthcare was vital for protecting people accessing medical care who are likely to become seriously ill if they catch COVID-19.

      “Healthcare is an essential,” she said. “When we remove this basic infection control measure, it is no longer accessible to a number of people, particularly people who are extremely medically vulnerable.”

      Since masking in the province’s healthcare settings was dropped, several hospitals in Interior Health and Fraser Health have reported COVID-19 outbreaks. 

      For patients who have to go to hospital for regular appointments, removing masks makes it more likely they will catch COVID-19 in a place that is supposed to keep them safe, Dr. Zeidler said. That’s also the conclusion reached by BC’s Human Rights Commissioner Kasari Govender. 

      “All of those present in health care settings—from patients to visitors to staff—are only there to promote the health of patients. In this setting in particular, 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,” she wrote in a statement.

      In the announcement, Dr. Bonnie Henry said, “While some situations [in healthcare] will require masks, they will no longer be universally mandatory.” 

      The most recent report released by independent COVID-19 modeling group COVID-19 Resources Canada on April 16 estimated that 1 in 17 people in BC currently have COVID-19. 

      BC’s COVID dashboard, which was last updated on April 15, reported 316 people currently hospitalized with the virus, 20 people in critical care, and 19 deaths in the previous week. Government data on infections and deaths is currently released biweekly, and will be released monthly from May 4.  

      Dr. Zeidler said that universal masking in hospitals and long-term care would help keep everyone safe, including staff and visitors, as everyone can be vulnerable to the effects of long COVID.

      “Anybody can be at risk from adverse effects from COVID infection,” she said. “More and more  people are starting to pick up on long COVID, or know somebody who has long COVID, and are wondering why public health has never talked about this.”

      A petition asking for Canadian hospitals to keep mask mandates has reached 20,000 signatures since it was launched a week ago. 

      “The hope is to continue to put pressure on the government to reinstate masks in healthcare settings, as a minimum,” Dr. Zeidler said. 

      Dr. Henry has noted that mandatory masking may return in the fall.

      Do No Harm are hosting a die-in protest outside Minister Adrian Dix’s office (5022 Joyce Street) at 12pm on Friday, April 28. More information is available here.