Dr. Henry had some strong words Wednesday for those refusing to comply with B.C.'s new indoor mask requirement announced last week.
The new order, mandating the use of masks that cover the mouth and nose in all indoor public and retail settings, was officially made by Minister of Public Safety Mike Farnworth Tuesday.
The new mask mandate has been protested by a vocal group of people across the province, including in Kelowna, who've purposely defied the order inside local private businesses as a form of protest.
“I have no time for people who are belligerent and are trying to make some sort of a statement about anti-vax, and think that this is not a truly challenging pandemic,” Dr. Henry said Wednesday.
“I have no time for people who believe that wearing a mask somehow makes them ill or is a sign of lack of freedom. To me, it's about respect for our fellow people who are suffering through this with us, and about making sure we're doing our piece in solidarity to get us through this really challenging time.”
“When people try and compare what really is at best inconvenience with injustice, I think they're just wrong,” Health Minister Adrian Dix added.
Dr. Henry noted that the some people are exempt from the order, particularly those who suffer from some form of physical or mental health condition, or those less than 12 years of age.
“We need to have patience and compassion for people,” she said. “We know that people can't wear masks for many reasons that may not be apparent to you, whether it's a psychological, behavioural or health condition or due to a physical, cognitive or mental impairment.”
She added that businesses should seek to accommodate those who are unable to wear a mask, by providing services like curb-side pickup, or allow for them to enter the store during times when “appropriate distances can be maintained.”
“My concern is that people who truly cannot wear a mask for a variety of reasons are going to be treated poorly, because of people like that who are making a 'misguided point,' to be nice about it,” she said.
Dr. Henry did not provide any instruction on how store employees can properly discern between those who are legitimately exempt from the order and those “belligerent” people who continue to protest the mask order.
The order comes as new COVID-19 cases continue to dramatically rise, with 7,616 active cases in the province, and a record high of 70 new cases in the Interior Health region Wednesday. In the past week alone, 51 British Columbians have died from the virus.
“We are still very much committed to our contact tracing approach, and it is still within our grasp, but as I've mentioned, last week in particular it was getting very, very close,” Dr. Henry said, noting the Fraser Health region has been the most challenging for contact tracers.
“All of our healthcare systems are starting to feel stretched right now.”