To Mask or Not to Mask: Should We Leave This Question to the People?
[Disclaimer — this article is based on observation, not research. The opinions are the author’s alone.]
This summer five of Ontario’s provinces removed the mandate to wear masks. Bonnie Henry, British Columbia’s top public health officer indicates that BC residents are still encouraged to wear masks, although it is no longer a requirement. Is it enough to recommend something without mandating it? My summer visit to two of Canada’s non-mask mandating provinces along with my own, pre-mask-mandate behaviour makes me believe it is not. I am convinced that without the legal mandate to sport a mask, most people will not do so.
In Ontario, mask mandates came into being slowly, first imposed by local public health departments and later by the provincial government. When the early adopters began wearing masks, I did not. Why? Because it was originally not recommended by the WHO or by our public health experts, and later, because I believed that the evidence for masks was anecdotal. I also trusted that if science was on the side of the mask, the government would mandate it.
Now a convert, I wore a mask in public in both PEI and NB this summer when it was no longer required. However, my observations in these provinces convince me that I am in the minority. My unscientific estimate was that significantly fewer than 50% of people were wearing masks in public locations. But more than the number of mask wearers, two specific incidents convince me that the mask mandate is absolutely required to slow the spread of COVID-19.
In Kensington, PEI, many shops had signs on the door reading “Masks recommended but not required.” At one such location I observed two women, one masked, the other not, entering a store. The non-mask-wearer commented on forgetting her mask and turned to go back to her car, just as the second woman read the sign aloud. The non-mask-wearer continued into the store unmasked, while the mask wearer removed her mask before entering.
The second incident took place in Edmonston, NB. My travelling companion and I stopped in a grocery store where we saw very few masks other than our own. My travelling companion reported to me that they were uncomfortable wearing a mask when “no one else was.”
Government mask wearing mandates keep everyone safe. Without the mask mandate the “anti-maskers” will go maskless, but so too will many people who underestimate the importance of the mask when it is not mandated. And for many people who want to wear a mask, peer pressure may cause them to leave the mask at home.
Of all the hardships we have endured during the pandemic, the wearing of a mask seems trivial to me. It seems that this one act, that can save so many lives and livelihoods, is the least we can do. I urge you to keep wearing the mask, even if not legally required to do so. And, I urge governments and public health units to legislate mask wearing for the good of everyone.