UBC, AMS have no plans to change mask policies as experts recommend stronger masks

As of January 23, UBC and the AMS do not plan to introduce any changes to existing mask policies on campus.

Following a record high test positivity rate in the UBC community health service area, cases of COVID-19 continue to rise.

Face masks are currently mandatory to access all indoor public areas at UBC, in accordance with the provincial government’s public health guidelines. According to the PHO order, any “medical or non-medical mask” or “tightly woven fabric” which covers the nose and the mouth is an acceptable face covering.

Given the high transmissibility of the recent Omicron variant, health experts now say that N95 and KN95 masks should be recommended in indoor public settings.

AMS President Cole Evans said in a statement that while the AMS will continue following guidance from provincial health authorities, it encourages students with access to N95, KN95, and similar grade masks to wear them.

“One of our concerns is that not all students have access to N95, KN95, and other similar masks. If any institution were to implement additional requirements on mask wearing it would be critical to ensure that all students have equitable access to a supply of better-quality masks,” Evans wrote.

President Santa Ono noted in Wednesday night’s Senate meeting that UBC is working towards obtaining a large supply of N-95 masks for distribution purposes.

Since N95 and KN95 masks are more expensive and difficult to obtain, experts also suggest the alternative of double masking or wearing a cloth mask over a medical mask, for better sealing and filtration.

The general consensus is that single-layer cloth masks by themselves are ineffective.

“The issue here is if you have a single-layer, the ability to filtrate is absolutely minimal and doesn’t make a difference whatsoever,” Dr. Peter Juni, head of Ontario’s Science Advisory Table said to Global News, regarding single-layer cloth face masks.

In November, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) updated its website to read, "in general, while non-medical masks can help prevent the spread of COVID-19, medical masks and respirators provide better protection. No matter which type of mask you choose, proper fit is a key factor in its effectiveness."

Some universities in the United States are now recommending or requiring surgical masks, as opposed to cloth masks.

According to Matthew Ramsey, director of university affairs at UBC Media Relations, the university is working towards releasing more information about planning for the return to in-person classes and COVID-19 policies within the next week.

“It is my hope that UBC will return to in-person instruction as soon as possible, as soon as we have confidence that it’s in the best interest of not only our community but also [in terms of the wider community],” President Ono said during Wednesday’s Senate meeting.