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B.C. rules for masks, barriers to ease with COVID-19 vaccination

Coronavirus precautions won’t be gone immediately on July 1
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says B.C. has reached a level of immunity where COVID-19 mask rules can be eased for those who have been vaccinated. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

As the B.C. government prepares to move to step three of its COVID-19 public health rules this week, vaccinated people will have more options for going without face masks this summer.

Barriers and infection procedures for retail stores and other workplaces will stay in place as businesses make a transition from pandemic rules to a more general cleaning and employee health plan for communicable diseases, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says.

“We are at the point where I believe it is important that we take away orders as soon as we can and that we take what we call the least restrictive means,” Henry said June 28, as the province prepares to move to step three of its reopening plan starting July 1. “So we will be moving to guidance again around where it is important, where are the conditions that it is important for people to continue to wear a mask, to have all of those layers of protection, and where, if you are immunized, you may not need to rely on that last layer of protection any more.”

Pandemic protection measures all but eliminated the 2020-21 seasonal influenza that typically circulates in the fall and winter, and WorkSafeBC has a new mandate to adapt its cleaning, hand-washing and other infection control measures to consider all communicable diseases by the fall.

“We’re not expecting employers to immediately, on the 1st of July, take away all the precautions and safeguards that they were employing for the last 15 months, but to work with their workers to transition away from those,” WorkSafeBC head of prevention services Al Johnson told The Canadian Press June 28.

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Henry said easing mask rules is an incentive for people to carry on and get two doses of vaccine, as businesses prepare for a transition with employees who have a right to refuse unsafe work.

“There are some workplaces we’ve identified that are higher risk for transmission of infections, and that was really exposed during this pandemic where it is important that people have the agency to stay home if they’re sick,” Henry said. “Part of that is having paid sick leave.

“We also know that barriers can be very helpful in some situations, and some of them will remain. Certainly in some workplaces, barriers will be in place for the next few weeks because we aren’t at the place where transmission is low enough and second doses are high enough.”


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