British Columbia

Masks now mandatory in B.C. health-care facilities

Patients, staff and visitors and are now required to wear medical masks inside all health-care facilities in B.C., ending months of debate on the issue and overriding a patchwork of policies with a single, top-down ruling.

Doctors of B.C. 'very pleased' with new provincial policy

A woman in a mask walks towards the front entrance of Vancouver's Holy Family Hospital residence, the site of a COVID-19 outbreak in June. Masks are now mandatory inside all health-care facilities across B.C., as per a new policy from the provincial Ministry of Health. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Patients, staff and visitors are now required to wear medical masks inside all health-care facilities in B.C., ending months of debate on the issue and overriding an inconsistent patchwork of policies with a single, top-down set of rules.

The Ministry of Health issued a directive Wednesday saying masks are now mandatory to curb the spread of COVID-19.

"This Policy protects patients, clients, clinicians, health care workers, non-clinical staff and the public by outlining provincial expectations for the use of face masks in all health care facilities, programs, and services, including community physician offices and outpatient clinics during the COVID-19 pandemic," the notice read.

"All health care facilities must provide medical masks for all health care workers, nonclinical staff, patients, and visitors."

The policy covers facilities like hospitals, long-term care homes and assisted living facilities.

Health-care workers work at Vancouver General Hospital's COVID-19 unit in May. (Vancouver Coastal Health)

There is an exception to the requirement for patients admitted to a health-care facility or long-term care home: they will not be required to wear a medical mask in their rooms, with exceptions based on a health-care professional's risk assessment.

There are also exceptions for people who can't wear a mask due to certain medical conditions.

If a patient or visitor does not have a mask, the policy said facilities must provide one.

No more 'mixed messaging'

Mask mandates for health-care facilities previously varied across the province, as well as across the rest of the country. Some jurisdictions said masks were required in places like hospitals, but others said personal protective equipment might only be required in certain scenarios.

The inconsistency left many calling for clearer, stricter rules, including one father who noticed people without face coverings at the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at New Westminster's Royal Columbian Hospital after his twins were born premature in September.

Doctors of B.C. has been advocating for more "masking up" for at least three weeks.

"We're very pleased that this has come down," said Dr. Kathleen Ross, president of the doctors' association.

"I recognize there's been a lot of mixed messaging with regards to masking as this pandemic has evolved and we've had a lot to learn with regards to how and when this particular virus is spread. Now we know a little bit more and enough to know how we can protect those around us. Masks are just one more tool in our toolbox that helps to reduce transmission," she continued.

"In the majority of hospitals and clinical care settings, physical distancing is really challenging. Please wear a mask. It will save lives."

The province's policy defined a medical mask as one that meets international standards, such as those from ASTM International -- for bacteria filtration, skin sensitivity and fluid resistance. The Public Health Agency of Canada is now recommending Canadians choose three-layer non-medical masks with a filter layer.

With files from Max Haberstroh and Jon Hernandez