Almost everyone boarding a bus in Greater Victoria will soon have to wear a face covering to protect against the spread of COVID-19.
Starting Aug. 24, passengers will be required to wear non-medical masks or face coverings while on board B.C. Transit vehicles.
Erinn Pinkerton, the transit agency’s president and chief executive officer, said the policy comes in response to feedback from passengers. It is being implemented as an “educational step” and won’t come with enforcement.
B.C. Transit has been recommending that passengers wear masks, but they have not been mandatory.
The agency said the new policy is the result of advice from health professionals, including provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, that face coverings should be worn when physical-distancing is not possible, including on transit vehicles.
The news pleased Henry.
“I think that’s excellent, that is an environment where I’ve said all along ... it’s harder to maintain those physical distances consistently,” she said.
“It’s not an enforcement model, it’s an education and supportive model, and that’s where we need to go.”
People need to remember that allowances have to be made for the small number of people who have challenges wearing masks, Henry said.
“Those of us who are able should be using masks on transit all the time,” she said. “I do and I expect others to as well.”
B.C. Transit said it has heard from bus riders that a mandatory mask rule would make customers feel more comfortable.
Exceptions to the policy include people with medical conditions and children under five.
TransLink, Metro Vancouver’s transportation network, is also mandating face coverings for transit riders as of Aug. 24. CEO Kevin Desmond said physical-distancing isn’t always possible on transit, especially as more riders return to the system.
He said customer confidence is key to rebuilding ridership that plummeted in the wake of the pandemic and requiring face coverings is an important step.
Officials say mask-wearing is a key way to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, while contact tracing is also an important measure in the effort to limit transmission.
B.C. reported 47 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday and Health Minister Adrian Dix said there hasn’t been a death in six days. The death toll stands at 195 people.
There have been 3,881 positive cases, while 3,315 people have recovered.
No new cases were reported in the Island Health region, which has seen 146 cases. Four of those are active. Five deaths have been attributed to the virus, and 137 people have recovered.
Henry said more than 1,500 people in the province are in isolation and being monitored by public health officials because they are considered close contacts to people who have tested positive.
Both Henry and Premier John Horgan acknowledged anxiety among parents, teachers and students who are concerned about the return to full-time schooling in September.
Horgan said during an earlier news conference on Thursday that he wanted parents to know the province wouldn’t send kids back to school if officials thought there was an overwhelming risk.
Henry said getting children back into the classroom is about much more than book learning, as school is essential for their health and emotional and social growth.
“For many children in this province, being at school is where they get health care. It’s a safe place for them, it’s a place where they can get psychological support, where they may get a meal.”
The Vancouver and Fraser health authorities both issued notices warning of possible COVID-19 exposures.
Vancouver Coastal Health said in a notice that a person who visited Lions Bay Beach Park north of Vancouver tested positive for COVID-19. Anyone who visited the beach on July 26, 27, 29, 30, or 31 should self-monitor for symptoms, although the health authority says the risk of exposure was low.
Fraser Health warned of a public exposure at the Hookah Lounge on King George Boulevard in Surrey. Potential exposure was over two early mornings, between midnight and 5 a.m. on Aug. 1 and 2, it said in a statement.