Financial access to masks remains an issue as the AMS, Vancouver City Councillors and potentially the university work to provide free face coverings to visitors.
On October 22, Vancouver City Council voted 6-4 in favour of a motion that “strongly encourage[d]” the use of non-medical masks in city buildings, amending version Councillor Sarah Kirby-Yung’s motion to mandate masks.
Councillor Christine Boyle expressed concerns that the text’s original language would hinder vulnerable populations who may lack the financial means to purchase a mask from accessing public services.
“We’ve heard from a number of people that this might act sort of formally or informally as a barrier,” she said before the vote. Other councillors who supported Boyle’s changes expressed similar sentiments. The motion also directs staff to explore funding options for free masks in city facilities.
This issue of mask accessibility is also visible at UBC and within the AMS, which both have mask-wearing mandates.
Currently, the university only gives masks to faculty, staff and graduate and undergraduate students who have an in-person class or live in residence. Visitors are required to provide their own face covering.
In a written statement to The Ubyssey, Matthew Ramsey, director of university affairs at UBC Media Relations, said that the university initially ordered 25,000 reusable cloth masks which have all been distributed at this point.
“A second order is in the very early stages of consideration for distribution among those students, faculty and staff in our campus community who are living on or required to be on campus. Part of that discussion includes how the university may be able to provide masks to visitors who don’t have them.”
Ramsey recommends that those who have lost or forgotten their mask should have an extra on hand, or purchase a new one at the UBC Bookstore or other retailer.
Dr. Hiro Kasahara, a UBC economics professor who helped lead a study on the efficacy of mask mandates in the United States earlier this summer, said that free masks may “increase the mask wearing rate.”
“If in fact...the Vancouver City Council decision not to implement mandated masks at the city buildings because of the concern of the financial difficulty ... I think a good alternative is offering masks at the entrance if they do not have a mask,” he said in an interview.
On the student level, AMS President Cole Evans said that the society is pursuing ways to provide free masks to visitors of the Nest, which has had its own mandatory mask rule in place since September.
When asked about the progress of the AMS’s efforts, Evans seemed optimistic. “That’s definitely something we’re still pursuing and we’re getting closer everyday to being able to implement that.”
Funding will come from a combination of resources from UBC’s VP Students office, along with reserves from the AMS Health and Dental Plan.
“We’re confident that by providing free masks we are going to ensure greater compliance, but also going to make sure we’re leveling the playing field more for those individuals who might not be able to afford masks,” he added.