A pregnant person in a hospital gown and wristband tenderly cradles their belly against a light blue background. Black text reads, Vulnerability Isn't Seasonal. #KeepMasksInHealthcare Have your say by April 1 - www.DoNoHarmBC.ca

Last updated: April 6, 2024

Content warnings: medical negligence, denial of care, loss, surgery, cancer

As part of DoNoHarm BC’s spring 2024 campaign Vulnerability Isn’t Seasonal, we’ve invited vulnerable British Columbians to share their experiences about why BC needs to maintain and strengthen healthcare mask protections – and what happens when they’re removed. 

You can find their statements below. (Some have been condensed for length and clarity). All individuals have given permission for their words to be published by the media. For further quotes, please visit our campaign fact sheet and read our press release.

* Available for interviews. (Note that some individuals may only be available for pre-recorded, remote, or written interviews due to their access needs.)

Kayli Jamieson (she/her) *
25-year-old Long COVID patient and Long COVID Researcher

“A single COVID infection completely upended my life”

A single COVID infection completely upended my life two years ago by disabling me with Long COVID. This is happening to millions and yet public health is not treating COVID with the seriousness it deserves and preventing infections in all healthcare settings. I haven’t seen a dentist in so long because I keep hearing people getting reinfected there. COVID isn’t seasonal, and unless everyone is wearing a mask if they can do so, my vulnerable family members and I can’t safely access healthcare. In an ongoing airborne pandemic, the more masked up, the better – we all share the same air, and we should be preventing healthcare-acquired infections year round. Everyone is at risk of Long COVID and post-COVID damage, not just the disabled and/or immunocompromised. It’s also not sufficient to merely wear baggy surgical masks where aerosols get through! Let’s follow the science.

Maria Brink (she/they) *
At high risk, veterinarian, advocate for family and friends with Long Covid

“My grandmother died from a healthcare-acquired infection”

COVID has significantly reduced my ability to access healthcare safely. My grandmother died from a healthcare-acquired infection, and that loss is unconscionable. Healthcare workers have a duty and obligation to protect all patients (especially the vulnerable) which includes not spreading airborne viruses. 

Masks (specifically KN95/N95s or better) must be worn year round by everyone in all medical facilities to provide appropriate source control, as just under 60% of SARS-COV-2 is spread by asymptomatic individuals. One-way masking is not sufficient or acceptable. This is common sense, and it’s unacceptable for healthcare to consider anything else. 

HEPA filtration and appropriate air exchanges would also be helpful metrics to consider, so that when patients need to eat/drink/remove their mask for any required medical reason that it reduces their risk and also reduces the risks to all the other individuals who have to share that air.

Hannah Wilson (she/her) *
Social services worker and community organizer

“After over 6 months…I still can’t see my doctor for lifesaving care”

Due to multiple chronic illnesses (including a post-viral illness triggered by the “common” flu), I’m at higher risk from both COVID-19 and other airborne diseases. After the removal of healthcare masking – and now, oscillating mask requirements tied to so-called “respiratory season” – I haven’t been able to safely access regular, necessary medical care. 

Nearly two years ago, I joined BC Women’s Centre for Pelvic Pain & Endometriosis. After the removal of masks in 2023, I put in a disability accommodation request for staff providing my care to wear KN95 masks or better. BC Women’s refused and created a care plan without my input, which had no masking for staff and would require me to stand waiting outside. I cannot do this due to my disability. They said if I didn’t like it, I could “go elsewhere”.

I filed a complaint with the hospital. They stated they were simply “following orders” by doing the minimum required by the Provincial Health Officer at the time. I was told it wasn’t necessary to use respirators, because the facility didn’t perform “aerosol generating” medical procedures – even though staff generate aerosols by simply breathing on patients. I was told I’m not considered a high-risk patient, because I’m not a high risk to staff and other patients.

After over 6 months of back and forth, I still don’t have a care plan in place, and I still can’t see my doctor for life-saving care. We need to keep mask requirements in healthcare settings so people can have timely access to care – and that needs to include respirators, as the only masks designed for airborne disease.

Lisa Sherwood (she/her)
Medically high-risk patient

“[The healthcare worker] said ‘You can’t prove I gave you COVID’ and then laughed at me”

First incident: I was having problems with my heart in 2023 and was referred for testing to a private clinic. When I arrived, I found one medical office assistant (MOA) at the desk wearing a surgical mask under their nose, and the other MOA had their mask dangling from a single ear. When I asked the MOAs to please mask, they refused. I tried to prop the door open a little for better ventilation, but one of them told me it was too cold. The doctor was wandering around unmasked.

Upon the MOA’s suggestion, I waited outside for my appointment. The doctor came out and suggested I would be “happier getting tested elsewhere” and an MOA deposited my belongings outside.

I immediately got into my car and started phoning to determine how a mask requirement was enforced in private clinics. It became clear there was no process, and no enforcement. A complaint to the College of Physicians was my only option. I faced months of delay and increased heart irregularities before I was able to get testing in a hospital. As such, diagnosis and treatment were delayed. It’s clear that patients at private health care clinics are more susceptible to similar breaches in infection control practices for SARS-CoV-2 and other airborne illnesses.

Second incident: I was denied healthcare for a second time in December 2023 because I asked a healthcare worker to put a mask on. At the time masks were required in hospitals but not in private practices. Related to the problems with my heart, it was found that I have a health problem which may be due to a previous COVID infection, and I needed a test at a private clinic. The technician was unmasked but said she would put a mask on each time I asked about it. When she had me in a small, enclosed space and was in close proximity to me, I became very concerned. I let her know that one of my loved ones had died from COVID and that two people I know have brain damage from COVID. She said, “That’s okay.” Shocked, I asked “What do you mean: That’s okay?” She responded “It’s okay to be afraid”. I again asked for her to don a mask. She said “I’m not ready”. Eventually after a number of minutes and having potentially filled the room with COVID aerosols she put a mask on. I explained the potential ramifications of her actions. She said “You can’t prove I gave you COVID” and then laughed at me. I asked her to do the test quickly. She became angry and refused to perform the test at all. I have a referral to have the test done in a hospital but the result will be months of delay.

This is why BC needs mask requirements for all healthcare settings, including private practices.

Tracy Connor (she, her, hers)
Bereaved family member

“Staff from [a] caregiving service had tested positive for COVID-19…one of them had been in my aunt’s house prior to her death”

My aunt was healthy and active for her age, but one day she suddenly collapsed and died. The coroner said it was “natural causes”. Family requested an autopsy, but were discouraged from having one. At no time was a PCR test offered or given. 

My aunt’s husband (my uncle) wound up testing positive for COVID. Others who had been in contact were infected, including persons at high risk. We then learned that staff from my aunt and uncle’s caregiving service had tested positive for COVID-19. One of them had been in my aunt’s house prior to her death.

When I went to the house with flowers I saw that a healthcare worker in the house wasn’t masked at all. In my opinion, it is possible that my uncle was still contagious.

Anyone acting as a professional caregiver, or an employee of health authorities in BC, should be required to wear an N95 mask when entering people’s homes.

EB Karel (any pronouns)
Cancer patient

“As a survivor of cancer, who may be ill again, it is terrifying to enter medical spaces”

As a survivor of cancer, who may be ill again, it is terrifying to enter medical spaces. Please bring back masks in all healthcare facilities.

Red (he/they)
Disabled adult living with chronic pain and chronic illnesses

“I don’t want to get Covid in BC healthcare – not again”

I don’t want to get Covid in BC healthcare – not again. The first time it happened, I got infected at LifeLabs over the summer (well after the winter “respiratory season”). That Covid infection seriously worsened my chronic medical conditions, to the point where I no longer feel safe getting my regular bloodwork. All healthcare settings – whether in a private lab, public hospital, or doctor’s office – should protect both patients and workers from the risk of infection. Healthcare workers should be using respirators widely year-round to properly protect against airborne diseases!

Cara (she/her)
Elder with multiple risks (brain tumour, diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma)

“I discharged myself 2.5 days after [brain] surgery because of the risks”

I’m elderly with multiple risks (brain tumour, diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma). Have not had an “annual” doctors appointment for four years. Phone appointments only, as my GP will not wear a mask. Had a long fight with an MRI tech who insisted I remove my (metal-free) mask for a brain MRI – I have annual MRIs so this is an ongoing stress. I’ve been to the dentist once in four years because they don’t clean air, open windows, or wear proper masks. I wore an N95 post-craniotomy in neuro ICU, while staff wore floppy blue procedure masks. Why am I more diligent about protecting myself than care providers are? I discharged myself 2.5 days after surgery because of the risks.

Jay (he/him, they/them)
Disabled and medically vulnerable, with high-risk family members

Jay (he/him, they/them)
Disabled and medically vulnerable, with high-risk family members

“I had surgery last year after masks were discarded…It was a nightmare”

I had surgery last year after masks were discarded in BC hospitals. It was a nightmare. Despite the fact that I’m disabled and extremely medically vulnerable (including immune system damage from previous Covid infections), staff didn’t mask in my hospital room. It was entirely on me to “manage my own risk”, even though that meant I couldn’t safely remove my mask to eat or drink. The lack of healthcare mask protections risked my recovery, and could have resulted in me bringing new illnesses home to my high-risk family members. Patients shouldn’t bear the burden of infection control, especially at their sickest and most vulnerable. That’s why we need proper airborne precautions in healthcare year round.

Katherine (she/her)
Concerned family member

“I am scared that the mask requirement in hospitals will be lifted this spring, putting [my mother] at further risk”

My mother has had numerous medical appointments, hospital stays, and ER visits in the last 3 months. Each one is a risk for her and her caregivers (myself included) due to the ongoing pandemic. I am scared that the mask requirement in hospitals will be lifted this spring, putting her at further risk while she accesses care. It doesn’t have to be like this. We need to keep masks in healthcare year-round and improve access to high quality N95s.

R. (they/them)
Severe Long Covid patient

“Without mask requirements, going to the doctor, hospital or for blood work is a risk to my life”

I got Covid because someone knowingly came to work while infectious – something that healthcare workers in BC are now allowed to do as well. It was my first Covid infection, and I never got better. I’m now severely disabled and bedbound. 

We need masks in all healthcare settings as an absolute bare minimum, including for patients. Without mask requirements, neither me nor my partner can safely get medical care, and going to the doctor, hospital or for blood work is a risk to my life.

Anonymous 

“An elderly couple arrived for chemo…the nurse said no [to masking] ‘because Bonnie said we don’t have to!’”

Before healthcare mask requirements were restored, I was at the hospital when an elderly couple arrived for chemo treatment. They were masked, and asked the maskless nurse if masks were required, as they were both recovering from a bad case of Covid. They seemed concerned she wasn’t masked.

The nurse said no, and abruptly exclaimed, “Because Bonnie said we don’t have to!” This poor couple looked so confused and scared…

Maybe the worst part is that later in the day, presumably because the nurse said it wasn’t necessary, the couple took their own masks off – potentially exposing themselves to Covid again right as one of them was about to become seriously immune suppressed. It was heartbreaking to witness the complete lack of care for these extremely vulnerable seniors.

Join our spring 2024 campaign ‘Vulnerability Isn’t Seasonal’ to take action.

Similar Posts