A pair of South Surrey parents are speaking out about concerns on both sides of the provincial health order mandating the use of masks.
For one mother – whose teenage daughter has been living with health complications since being diagnosed with COVID-19 earlier this year – the aim is to raise awareness around the use of face shields, and the fact that they are not an accepted substitute for masks, particularly in workplaces dealing with food.
For another – the father of a young girl who was refused entry for an eye appointment because she wasn’t wearing a mask, due to a health condition which qualifies her for an exemption – the issue is about respect for people with disabilities.
“It’s not about shaming businesses at all,” Monre Bester emphasized to Peace Arch News Thursday (Dec. 3). “It’s about common decency and respecting people with disabilities.
“It’s awareness as well for other businesses to realize that look, there are people that have disabilities that might seem OK,” Bester continued.
Bester said his daughter is a Grade 7 student who has Aspergers, a disorder that is considered high-functioning on the autism spectrum, and that an eye exam was requested by her neurologist.
He said the 12-year-old can’t wear a mask as they make her lightheaded to the point where she has even thrown up, and that his ex-wife had contacted the eye clinic twice ahead of their daughter’s appointment to ensure they were aware of her medical file and double-check that they knew she was unable to wear a mask. On both occasions, she was assured it wouldn’t be a problem, Bester said.
However, when the mother and daughter arrived at the clinic Wednesday, it was a different reality, Bester said.
“They were refused entry at the door, and got into a heated conversation, and ended up with (the eye clinic staff) saying, ‘Look, under no circumstances are we going to allow your kid in to do her eye exam, because of COVID and if she’s not going to wear a mask.'”
Bester described the situation as “crazy, off-the-charts.”
“I just feel the way she’s been treated is just completely, utterly discrimination against a child.”
Bester said while Fraser Health officials assured him that such a refusal is against the rules, they also said ensuring that businesses comply is outside their jurisdiction.
A Fraser Health spokesperson directed PAN to contact the solicitor general’s office, and officials with Emergency Management BC responded Monday (Dec. 7).
“Everyone should keep in mind that there are valid reasons for some people not to wear masks,” an emailed reply states.
“Businesses are not the enforcers of this order,” it continues.
“They may set their own policies for the use of face coverings but should be mindful that some people have legitimate reasons for not being able to wear a mask and may be exempt from the order.”
Exempt individuals, the statement notes, include “persons who are unable to wear face coverings due to physical, mental or cognitive disabilities or medical conditions.”
Bester said his daughter’s experience is proof that more awareness is needed. He said he understands and has no issue with people asking for an explanation for his daughter’s lack of mask, but described what transpired this week as heavy-handed and “extremely unprofessional.”
“Just because they’re high-functioning doesn’t mean they don’t have disabilities,” Bester said.
In the case of the mother whose teenage daughter had COVID-19 earlier this year, she said her frustration is with people who believe face shields meet the standard of protection that is mandated under the mask order.
The mom – who asked to remain anonymous to protect her daughter’s identity – said she recently reported a White Rock business to the city’s bylaw department after employees and even managers were working with only face shields on. The coverings, she noted, pointing to wording in the provincial health order, are “not a substitute for a mask as it has an opening below the mouth.”
“The mask mandate specifically says face shields don’t qualify… because they don’t protect from aerosol transmission,” however, both store staff and bylaw officers told her that everything was fine, she said.
“I’m pretty frustrated that those systems are falling down in this way, because it’s not a grey area anymore. It’s not up for interpretation.”
City of White Rock communications manager Donna Kell confirmed that the city investigated one report concerning a grocery store, and that bylaw officers who visited noted all customers were in compliance. Regarding safety protocol for employees in workplaces, “the use of masks or allowances for other forms of employee protection, including face shields, is overseen by WorkSafeBC,” Kell said.
WorkSafeBC’s website regarding mask use links to the provincial health order.
The mom said a call to Fraser Health regarding her concern resolved the situation, however, she has since noted employees of some other area businesses that deal with food also using face shields.
Seeing the realities of long-term COVID-19 impacts that her previously-healthy daughter is living with – which have included bouts of unexplained vomiting and, recently, a seizure – the mom said it is unacceptable for those who are out and about in the community, and for workplaces in particular, to not comply with the health order, regardless of any personal feelings they may have around the need for or effectiveness of masks.
“It’s beyond insensitive for people to be saying, ‘Well, I don’t want to wear a mask,'” she said. “It’s not appropriate. We need to be a community of people here. Just because (COVID-19) hasn’t happened to them, it doesn’t mean it’s not happening.
“As an employer, they don’t have to agree with me. I’m not Dr. Bonnie Henry,” the woman said. “But now that she’s made the mandate – it’s not a recommendation, it’s an actual mandate – the employers’ job is to enforce it.
“As a community, in terms of our social contract, we all need to do our part here.”