Public Face Mask: As the novel coronavirus began to spread globally infecting millions, countries around the world were compelled to enact strict measures to minimize the impact of the pandemic.
In all fairness, information on the spread and severity of Covid-19 in the initial stages of the pandemic was rather limited. The world looked to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to provide guidance on what people should do to protect themselves and their loved ones from contracting the virus.
As recommended by the WHO and the CDC, some of the measures taken by governments included imposing travel restrictions and strict social distancing protocols.
With the coronavirus gradually spreading across the world, whispers of lockdowns turned to full-on debates regarding whether governments should institute lockdowns. By the time March 2020 was drawing to a close, over 100 countries across the world had imposed partial or full lockdowns, affecting billions of people.
One measure that has brought about hotly contested debates from various parts of the world, including Canada, is the use of face coverings. The WHO and the CDC have advised that people wear face masks to curb the spread of Covid-19. They have also insisted that as of things are at now, face masks are humanity’s best approach against the spread of the virus.
In light of this, government health authorities around the world have directed people to use face masks when in public. Some have even made it mandatory by law to have a surgical mask on in public.
In Canada, the effects of the coronavirus have varied within territories and provinces, and so have the rules. As of the first week of September 2020, there were about 135,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19. However, within the same timeframe, Quebec had been impacted the most with nearly 50% of the total cases in Canada. In comparison, Yukon had 15 confirmed cases with Nunavut registering none at all.
Let’s take a deeper look into the approach the Government of Canada has taken in regards to the laws governing the public use of face masks.
What’s the Deal With Face Masks
Regardless of whether you hold a political or apolitical stand on the requirements of face masks in Canada, there are valid reasons as to why people should wear face masks.
The virus is primarily spread through respiratory droplets released when a carrier coughs, sneezes, or talks. When these droplets are inhaled by a non-infected person or they land on the person’s face, they can infect them with the virus.
Perhaps the most compelling argument vouching for face mask use in public should be that some people are asymptomatic carriers of the coronavirus. This means they can easily spread the virus without them knowing they’re infected.
Wearing face masks will help curb the spread of the virus because they trap the released droplets from contaminating surfaces, breathable air, or landing on anyone’s face.
Mandatory Use of Face Masks in Public
As highlighted above, the effects of Covid-19 have not been synonymous across Canadian provinces. As a result, the measures implemented to fight the spread of the coronavirus have also differed.
While some provinces have shied away from mandating face masks citing reasons such as enforcement being difficult and improper mask use doing more damage than good, others haven’t held up.
On the last day of June 2020, Toronto City Council approved a bylaw that made the use of face coverings in indoor public spaces mandatory. The bylaw was to remain in effect until the end of September 2020 when the city council would have the next meeting.
Kids aged 2 and under as well as anyone with a medical condition that would restrict them from using a mask were exempt from the bylaw. This means that people without face masks would be denied access to spaces such as grocery stores or public commuter services.
Mayors and chairs of the Greater Toronto municipalities have written an open letter to Health Minister Christine Elliot requesting that the province issue a blanket order that made mask use in large municipalities compulsory but the request was turned down.
In Ottawa and Calgary, Mayors Jim Watson and Naheed Nenshi are considering making masks mandatory in public spaces. As of July, Quebec was the only province to implement province-wide mandatory mask use.
A municipality on the Island of Montreal was the first to mandate face masks in public businesses back in June. A month later, Quebec Premier Francois Legault announced that masks would be mandated on public transport within the entire province. On July 27th, the mayors of Montreal, Valerie Plante, decided to mandate masks in all closed public places.
Educate or Mandate: Which Is Better?
Health systems around the world have been left overwhelmed with a large number of Covid-19 positive people getting admitted with severe symptoms. This has prompted governments to take stringent measures to alleviate the burden.
For some countries, especially in the Western hemisphere, the use of face coverings has been met with intense criticism and dissidence. A store security guard was fatally shot in the United States after they instructed a customer they should wear a mask while inside the store.
In Canada, people were also not entirely open to the use of facial covering during the primary stages of the pandemic in the country. There were numerous viral videos of people publicly refusing to comply.
For instance, video footage from Ontario showed an infuriated shopper that there was no benefit to wearing masks. There was also another video recorded at St. Joseph’s Health Center in Toronto of a woman refusing to wear a surgical mask as she argued with healthcare workers.
However, according to a study commissioned by the Association for Canadian Studies, more Canadians are slowly starting to change their attitudes toward wearing masks. This makes enforcement of laws mandating mask use in public easier for everyone considering the development of an effective vaccine in the near future is not looking likely.
As we learn more and more about the virus, its severity, and how it affects the community at large, Canadians will slowly learn to accommodate the ‘new normal’ for the greater benefit of the community.