By: Charlie Ruiz, SFU Student
After the worst COVID-19 outbreak this province has seen, cases are finally falling. This is the result of months of COVID-19 precautions — yet, we are once again beginning to lift restrictions. Most recently, BC has decided to drop mandatory masking, despite this being a key precaution in slowing disease spread. This new policy ignores the reality of COVID-19 and further pushes those who are already at-risk into higher risk.
As I would hope we all know by now, COVID-19 is airborne. This means COVID-19 floats in the air, sometimes for hours, and can easily be transmitted in public areas — unless people are wearing masks. We have years of evidence supporting the benefits of masking — and Dr. Bonnie Henry herself has stated, “We still need this tool.” In a recent interview, she added, while masking may not be currently mandated, it’s still important.
Why then did Dr. Henry lift mask mandates with barely a day’s notice? She explained she doesn’t believe we need a policy to ensure people wear masks. Well, only a few days after this mandate was lifted, that’s not what’s happening. It’s evident that BC Public Health is misjudging the province’s responses to the health crisis; harming us all.
SFU has followed public health in lifting the mask mandate, and as a result people will become infected. Students didn’t sign up for courses expecting mask mandates would be dropped at a moment’s notice. Frankly, SFU’s constant claims of being an equitable university are laughable when they so blatantly exclude the concerns of disabled communities when reconsidering masking requirements. As a university, they are not bound to mimic provincial guidelines, as demonstrated by UBC’s continued support of indoor mask mandates.
Public Health and various other sources recognize the importance of masking to prevent COVID-19, yet they have not done their job in implementing these measures to keep the community safe. Moreover, mask wearing is most effective when everyone wears them, so these new policies effectively decrease their value. Sure, we have high vaccination rates in BC — but variants running amok decrease the amount of protections vaccines can provide. Worse yet, we’ve already lived through this chapter of history: in the summer of 2021, mask mandates were lifted, only to be implemented a few weeks later due to high levels of transmission. The nature of viruses is that new variants will arise and there is evidence they can become stronger.
But what are immunocompromised people supposed to do? The idea that those who are not OK with lifting these precautions should just lock themselves up at home is inequitable, especially when such a small measure effectively decreases transmission.
At-risk people cannot simply protect themselves on an individual scale. Rather than forcing people into isolation wherever possible, we should be creating policies that invite them to participate with us safely.
There has been an emphasis on “kindness” towards personal choice on masking. I acknowledge there are valid reasons to not wear one, but not being bothered to protect those around me is a choice I struggle to accept with kindness.
We will never get out of this pandemic unless there is coordination with guidelines, and not the flip-flopping between precautions every month. BC and SFU have made clear their priorities — get back to “normal” regardless of the cost. BC dropped reporting COVID-19 active cases, and this obscures the data we have on the pandemic. Just because we’ve stopped tracking the data, doesn’t mean it’s not there. This far into COVID-19, I’m tired of begging institutions to do the bare minimum to protect those in the community.