Seven months and 12 days is a long time to be wearing a face mask. Yet incredibly, that’s how long British Columbians went about their business under an emergency order mandating masks in indoor public places.
That order, along with the epic-length provincial state of emergency, has been lifted as of July 1 and replaced with a recommendation instead, for “all people 12 and older who are not yet fully vaccinated” to continue the practice.
But a recommendation, as Premier John Horgan acknowledged when announcing Step 3 of the province’s restart plan on June 29, is not a directive.
Which means some people who are not fully vaccinated will choose to stop wearing a face mask in indoor public places and some people who are fully vaccinated will choose to wear a mask anyway. And some members of each group are bound to feel very strongly about the choice they make.
Complicating things further, the B.C. government says employers “may choose to implement mask policies for workers and/or members of the public that exceed the requirements of Public Health.”
In a June 17 statement, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry recommended workplaces “maintain some of their current COVID-19 Safety Plan protocols, specifically those that do not negatively impact business operations,” during the Step 3 transition. Examples she gave were barriers already installed on the premises or directional arrows to reduce points of congestion.
The upshot is that it’s going to be somewhat chaotic during this transitional phase and the potential for conflict and misunderstanding will be considerable. It’s therefore essential that we all, as Premier Horgan said this week, “continue to respect everyone’s comfort level as we safely take another step toward putting this pandemic behind us.”
Another potential flashpoint is the anticipated surge in travel. To inject life into the moribund tourism industry, the province has flung the doors open to visitors from anywhere in Canada (“preferably vaccinated”) and pent-up demand will do the rest.
Not everyone will be comfortable with this influx. Reports are still coming in of rude and unwelcoming behaviour directed toward people with out-of-province licence plates. The tiny minority who indulge in such activity need to wise up and lay off.
It will be a joy to get a taste of regular life in the form of backyard summer gatherings, larger capacity indoor and outdoor events, and simply having more freedom to mingle and roam. Young people especially need to get out there and feel part of the bigger world. They’ve missed a lot and will be highly impressionable after such a long period of seclusion. Let’s all set a good example for them, and try to enjoy ourselves while we’re at it.