– Kamloops This Week

Beginning on Tuesday, Oct. 3, wearing masks in all healthcare facilities in B.C. will be mandatory.

The order from provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry comes as respiratory infections are increasing across B.C.

Medical mask-wearing will be required by all health-care workers, volunteers, contractors and visitors in patient-care areas. Long-term care visitors will be required to wear a medical mask when they are in common areas of the home and when participating in indoor events, gatherings and activities in communal areas of the care home or residence.

Patients in hospitals and residents of care homes will not be required to wear masks under the mandate, Henry said, adding that patients’ health-care providers will determine the need based on their illnesses.

Henry said the mask mandate applies to all health-care settings operated by provincial health authorities and all long-term care homes. She said the mask mandate will be in effect in areas of patient care, such as waiting rooms, but not in areas such as cafeterias. The mandate does not apply to family doctors’ or dentists’ offices.

The province has hired what it calls ambassadors, people who will be at health-care facilities to help with screening for symptoms of respiratory illnesses, hand out medical masks and ensure people clean their hands before entering.

There are currently mandatory mask requirements in various areas of health-care facilities, including at Royal Inland Hospital, where higher case counts of COVID-19 have led to mandatory mask-wearing by visitors.

As the respiratory virus season begins, the province is urging people in B.C. ages six months and older to get their COVID-19 and influenza vaccines.

“An increase in hospital visits with the fall respiratory illness season requires measures to ensure our acute care is effective and our health-care system is strong, and that’s exactly what we’re doing,” Health Minister Adrian Dix said at a Thursday, Sept. 28, press conference.

When the vaccines start to arrive in B.C. in early October, priority populations will be invited to book vaccine appointments. These populations include people most at risk of severe illness and complications, such as seniors ages 65 and older, residents in long-term care facilities, the Indigenous community, pregnant women and those with chronic health conditions, such as cancer, HIV, hepatitis C and diabetes), as well as health-care workers.

Invitation for immunization appointments for everyone else will begin on Oct. 10 and people will be able to receive influenza and COVID-19 vaccines at the same time, if they wish. Invitations will roll out incrementally throughout the month of October.

Vaccines will be available in many participating pharmacies, health-authority clinics and some primary-care providers’ offices throughout the province. They remain free and are available for everyone six months and older, including enhanced influenza vaccines for seniors.

“We are starting to see increasing respiratory virus infections in B.C., including COVID-19, and now is the time to remember the healthy habits we can all do to protect ourselves, our loved ones and our communities,” Henry said. “That includes covering your cough, cleaning your hands regularly, staying away from others if you have a cough or a fever, wearing masks if you have lingering symptoms or need extra protection and getting the updated COVID-19 and influenza vaccines.”

Health Canada approved the updated Pfizer-BioNTech Comirnaty Omicron XBB.1 COVID-19 vaccines on Sept. 28 and the COVID-19 Moderna Spikevax vaccine on Sept. 12 and they will be available in B.C. soon. The new vaccines target the XBB.1.5 subvariant and are approved for use in people ages six months and older. The updated Novavax vaccine is expected to be approved shortly and will also be available throughout the province.