• Matt Harrison

Make masks mandatory

Venturing out this past week, I forgot that a pandemic was still raging.


When I went to a local Hills’ hardware store, the employees and the majority of the customers weren’t wearing masks. My mask-wearing self was the anomaly, not the other way ‘round. Later, at a Hill’s grocery store, again I was the anomaly. Moreover, I felt like I was the only one still performing the two-metre ‘dance’; no one seemed afraid to come within a foot of me—or anyone else for that matter.


As you’ll see from a letter by one of our readers this week, my experience wasn’t unique.

I gather the sense that, given the variety of protective measures in place (or not), there’s much confusion, certainly ignorance, and some willfulness over what we should do to protect ourselves and others during this reopening phase. And for that, I put some of the blame on the Quebec government.


When it comes to confusion, it doesn’t get better than this: While the Quebec.ca website regarding COVID-19 states, “Wearing a face covering ... in public is strongly recommended especially when physical distancing (two metres) is not possible, such as when you go to the grocery store or take public transit,” the province’s “Self-care Guide” on the virus, which most of us received in the mail this past week, states: “Wearing a mask when you have no symptoms is not recommended”— with “no symptoms” underlined for emphasis.


(Insert spiral-eyes emoji here.)


The “Guide” does recommend a mask if you’re coughing or sneezing; I’ve been wheezing and sneezing due to allergies, so should I wear a mask? #utterlyconfused


This past week, a group of epidemiologists and health professionals called on the province to make masks compulsory, saying, masks are a “low cost, risk-free” way to limit the spread of the virus, according to a CBC report. The CBC also reported this past week that Masks4Canada, a group of doctors and scientists campaigning to make masks mandatory and which includes the voice of Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, sent an open letter to federal health officials that noted a recent poll indicating less than half of Canadians are wearing masks in public. According to the group, 80 per cent of Canadians need to be wearing masks in order to prevent a possible second wave of the virus.


These calls to make masks compulsory by various Canadian doctors and health professionals is in line with the trend around the world, where more than 50 countries have made wearing masks in public, in some form or another, compulsory.


So why not here?


As the letter-writer asks, “Since when is the issue of public safety any one person’s choice to make?”


In attempting to answer it for myself, I found myself thinking of fires.


Currently, there’s been little rain for weeks. As such, there is an open-fire ban for the entire La Vallée-de-la-Gatineau area north of latitude 47°30’. The ban is compulsory. The ban is not a suggestion. It’s not a guide. It’s not a matter of debate or “agree-to-disagree”. The ban is a decision to put the public’s safety over one’s freedom to have a bonfire. If this can be true for fires during dry periods, why can’t it be the same for masks during a pandemic?


The answer seems clear in my mind: this isn’t about personal choice, it’s about the safety of everyone. The Quebec government should make the wearing of masks in indoor public spaces mandatory.


And really, is wearing a piece of cloth over your face that much of a sacrifice? Be thankful it’s just a piece of cloth; ask a frontline worker: it could be a lot worse.

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