Dr. Anna Wolak is one of the doctors who started Masks4BC. (photo from King Edward Medical Centre)
Mandatory use of masks, in addition to physical distancing and hand hygiene, will help save lives and the economy in the wake of the coronavirus, according to Masks4Canada, a nation-wide, grassroots group of healthcare professionals. The group was formed in May, while a provincial branch, Masks4BC, started operations in July.
Masks4Canada works to inform all levels of Canadian government and the public of the critical importance of wearing masks in reducing the transmission of COVID-19. The group promotes the use of masks in all indoor settings – such as schools, businesses, factories and stores – on public transport and outdoors, when physical distancing is not possible.
Jewish community member Dr. Anna Wolak, the medical director at Vancouver’s King Edward Medical Centre, is one of the doctors who started Masks4BC, following the implementation of mask mandates in Ontario and Alberta. As of this writing, such a mandate had not been instituted in British Columbia and Masks4Canada has written a public letter to the B.C. government, including Dr. Bonnie Henry, urging the adoption of one.
“A universal mask use mandate has always been up to the provincial health officer and the B.C. health minister. As numbers continue to rise, all we can do is vocalize the need for it and continue making sure the information about masks is available,” said Wolak, who also serves as a family physician and as a clinical assistant professor of family medicine at the University of British Columbia.
“As more businesses bring in mandatory mask use, it will make it easier to normalize their use. Scientific journals are also very good at making sure findings about the protectiveness of masks are available, but these publications are not typically read by the lay public and, therefore, need to be conveyed through various media channels,” Wolak added.
In its letter to the provincial government, Masks4Canada recommended that mandatory masking policies be applied with the acronym “ACT”: all indoor spaces outside the home (such as hospitals, schools, shops and businesses), crowds (any place where it is difficult to distance from others) and transit.
Though the B.C. government did not respond to the letter, the group has made an impact. Transportation authorities, including BC Transit and TransLink, have mandated masks on all public transit – buses, SkyTrain and SeaBus – and BC Ferries has followed suit. Individual businesses have likewise taken strides to implementing the wearing of masks to protect the public from infection.
According to Wolak, a mask mandate should have been introduced when numbers of daily infections were low, and before schools reopened. She emphasized, however, that it is not too late to bring about a mandate as long it happens before the respiratory viral season – which includes influenza, parainfluenza, RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) and the common cold – really gets underway.
“I think B.C. missed an opportunity to contain the virus,” Wolak told the Independent. “Ideally, I would like to see masks required in all indoor areas outside of the home, including classrooms, as well as masks in crowded outdoor areas. Of pressing importance is the need for a mask mandate in hospitals because, as surprising as this might sound, it is not currently the case.”
Masks4Canada does state that people with certain medical conditions or disabilities, along with young children, be exempt. Nonetheless, for most people they recommend the use of masks.
Further, they say there should be free distribution of masks to populations that may be vulnerable or at higher risk. Rather than focusing on penalties to enforce policy, the group encourages education to help the public understand how to wear a mask properly, as well as the importance of wearing masks for the protection of health and provincial economic recovery.
British Columbia and other provincial mask groups have seen an increase in the number of doctors supporting the cause. As other provinces put mandates in place, focus in those areas has broadened to other relevant issues, such as effective ventilation protocols and tracking school outbreaks.
Masks4Canada does not sell masks or medical supplies, nor does it endorse or partner with for-profit enterprises.
Wolak has had a significant media presence since helping create Masks4BC. She has appeared on CTV Vancouver, Global News, CTV News Ottawa and OMNI Television, among other TV news programs. She has also spoken on various news radio shows, including CKNW’s Lynda Steele Show, The Jill Bennett Show and the nationally broadcast Charles Adler Live.
For more information, go to masks4canada.org.
Sam Margolis has written for the Globe and Mail, the National Post, UPI and MSNBC.