December 8, 2023

British Columbians cautioned to take safety measures by provincial health officer amid expected autumn triple threat from respiratory illnesses

Article content

British Columbians should mask up if they have any respiratory illness symptoms and can’t avoid close contact with others indoors, says provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.

Advertisement 2

Article content

“We are not looking at reintroducing mask mandates at this time,” said Henry. But she said that could change if necessary as the pandemic evolves.

Article content

“We are seeing an increase in respiratory illnesses across the province,” Henry said Monday in an email. She said that is to be expected because viruses increase in the fall and winter and more people are returning to indoor activities without COVID restrictions.

Henry said those who are ill should remain at home until the fever disappears (without medication) and they are well enough to engage in usual activities. And she suggested to avoid non-essential close contact with those 70 and older, LTC residents and immunocompromised individuals, as well as to stay away from LTCs and hospitals until you feel better.

Advertisement 3

Article content

“If you have symptoms but it is essential to be in close contact with others, preventative measures such as masking in indoor spaces, washing hands and respiratory etiquette can reduce the risk of respiratory illness transmission,” she said.

She said hospitals in other provinces are seeing “higher than normal” volumes of patients, including children.

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry: No ‘surge’ yet in hospitalizations.
B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry: No ‘surge’ yet in hospitalizations. Photo by Don Craig /B.C. Government/File

But she said that in B.C., “even though we are seeing more respiratory illness circulating, we are not yet experiencing a COVID-19/influenza/RSV surge in hospitalizations.”

Ontario’s chief medical officer of health strongly recommended Monday that residents wear masks in indoor public settings to protect children from a “triple threat” of respiratory viruses, while Alberta’s premier said she will not impose a mask mandate and urged people not to panic.

Advertisement 4

Article content

In Ontario, children’s hospitals have been overwhelmed by an influx of patients in recent weeks, with younger children under threat from the flu and the respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, while COVID-19 continues to circulate.

The children’s hospitals are at 100 per cent capacity and “we’re asking more people to mask up,” Dr. Keiran Moore said.

Shoppers are masked up while walking the streets of downtown Vancouver on Monday.
Shoppers are masked up while walking the streets of downtown Vancouver on Monday. Photo by NICK PROCAYLO /PNG

He did not mandate masking, but said he is “discussing and reviewing” the possibility of requiring masks in schools again. He also recommended children between ages two and five wear a mask, if possible.

“Through COVID infection and vaccination we have achieved a very high level of population immunity and the number of people at risk for serious outcomes from COVID-19 has dropped significantly,” Henry said Monday.

Advertisement 5

Article content

“Even amongst the frailest elderly populations in long-term care facilities, most vaccinated residents with COVID-19 experience mild symptoms,” she said.

Long-term care homes collect data on rates of infection and submit those to the health ministry, said Terry Lake, CEO of the B.C. Care Providers Association.

“They’re keeping a very close eye on things. We’re the canary in the coal mine,” he said. “We would know if things were getting out of hand.”

He said all staff wear masks and all visitors 12 and over must take a rapid antigen test before visiting and wear a mask in the common areas of the home. Children age 11 and under must be masked at all times but are not required to test before entering, he said.

Dr. Brian Conway, president of the Vancouver Infectious Disease Centre, says that ‘in certain settings, mask use makes sense.’
Dr. Brian Conway, president of the Vancouver Infectious Disease Centre, says that ‘in certain settings, mask use makes sense.’ Photo by Arlen Redekop /PNG files

“Our first line of defence remains vaccination,” said Dr. Brian Conway, president of the Vancouver Infectious Disease Centre. “Masking for sure is the additional line of defence.”

Advertisement 6

Article content

He said it is up to individuals to take responsibility to wear a mask or not, dependent on whether or not there are cases of COVID in the school or workplace, for a few days after returning to the public arena after recovering from COVID, or when you’re indoors and it’s difficult to maintain a safe distance from others.

“In certain settings, mask use makes sense and we should wear a mask whether the government tells us to or not,” he said. “You should always have a mask on your person and just wear it if you go into a confined space with lots of people.”

Conway and Henry said it’s important to remain at home if you’re sick.

“I want to be clear about this: You don’t go out (to work, school or social events) when you’re sick just because you’re wearing a mask. Stay home if you’re sick,” said Conway.

Advertisement 7

Article content

Henry encouraged all to get vaccinated “with whichever dose they are eligible for, as soon as they can.”

Health officials will continue to monitor the global pandemic and change protocols if necessary, she said.

[email protected]

More news, fewer ads: Our in-depth journalism is possible thanks to the support of our subscribers. For just $3.50 per week, you can get unlimited, ad-lite access to The Vancouver Sun, The Province, National Post and 13 other Canadian news sites. Support us by subscribing today: The Vancouver Sun | The Province.

Advertisement 1


Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *