Masking the data: Whether people like it or not, we’re still in a pandemic

No, the last three years have not been a fever dream

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People masked up on the bus at night
Why are we playing chicken with the next wave by not masking up? Photo: Zydeaosika / Pexels

By Isabella Urbani, Staff Writer

It may seem like we’re far removed from the nationwide lockdown in March 2020, which sequestered people to their homes (minus the occasional run to the store for the bare essentials), but we’re not out of the pandemic yet. Even though we’re still in the thick of COVID-19, it’s becoming harder to grasp given the recently lifted mask requirements and vaccine cards.

British Columbians became hopeful last year when a vaccine was introduced. At the time of writing, 86% of British Columbians have received their first dose, with similar numbers for their second. The booster, on the other hand, was largely disregarded by many. At present, only 52% of people in BC have had three shots.

It’s as though people believed they’d done their fair share by receiving two shots to fill out their vaccine card that was put in effect last summer. They’re wrong, according to Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, general-director of the World Health Organization.

“We are concerned that a narrative has taken hold in some countries that because of vaccines — and because of Omicron’s high transmissibility and lower severity — preventing transmission is no longer possible and no longer necessary,” said Ghebreyesus in February.

There’s this false belief that, after vaccination, COVID-19 will either just walk out of our lives — or if it doesn’t, it’s simply too hard to reduce transmission. Other ongoing measures, like mask-wearing, have sometimes been argued as detrimental to a person’s way of living. However, since the very beginning of this pandemic, the idea of masking was sold to British Columbians as being a temporary measure. It’s only natural that some might be confused by pandemic precautions being reinstated after continually patting ourselves on the back about BC’s “high vaccination rates.”  

Baiting people, whether intentional or not, with a sense of normalcy after two years of uncertainty is sure to have them biting. Whether it’s those that haven’t been conscious of COVID-19 procedures since the very beginning or those who’ve been doing their best, citizens are taking the bait and relaxing despite our having been in the midst of thea sixth wave.

What might contribute to that relaxation is that BC stopped reporting daily COVID-19 data just last month. It makes predicting the impact of the sixth wave that much more difficult ahead of the busy summer months. How can people begin to get a fair assessment of what they need to do to remain safe when they have limited information?

In April, unvaccinated individuals accounted for over half of the hospitalizations and deaths in Canada. From March–April 2022, vaccinated individuals were four times less likely to die from COVID-19 than their unvaccinated counterparts. Add in a booster shot and that figure increases to seven. Dr. Bonnie Henry already has said to expect a COVID-19 surge in the fall. With how quickly COVID-19 can mutate and spread, and given that a substantial amount of mild cases result in long-term health consequences, why are we still taking chances?

Masks shouldn’t be something we put on just to deal with a pandemic. Time and time again, Henry put the ball in peoples’ courts to wear a mask. It wasn’t until November 2020 that masks were required amongst retail workers. It’s no surprise that many people are opting to be maskless in close quarters with it now being “a matter of personal choice” — despite masks being the most effective when widely-used. I’m not sure why my potential exposure to a rapidly mutating virus should be up to others.

Masks should be an everyday item people carry on themselves and wear when they start to feel under the weather. We also need to normalize prioritizing health. If you’re sick, stay home. It’s what’s best for your recovery, and it’s what’s best for the people around you. Workplaces are struggling with a sick workforce. Whether it’s workers with mild enough symptoms to come into work, or workers taking sick days, businesses are struggling under an incoherent pandemic approach. 

A world of “learning to live with COVID-19” should include precautions to make it safe for everyone to participate in society. This would include masks, upgrades to ventilation, and social distancing. Wouldn’t this be better than letting a quickly changing virus rip through our society and stopping and starting precautions when hospitals become overwhelmed? 

People may not want to go back to living with COVID-19 precautions, but by not taking necessary precautions and jumping directly into the deep end, we’re just setting ourselves for an endless loop of re-instituted pandemic protocols.