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EDITORIAL: Please, wear a mask

opinion_editorial070920
Photo by Braden Dupuis

Phase 3 has arrived in Whistler like a lion.

Those old, familiar traffic jams to get in and out of town are back. The parks, patios and paths around town were packed with walkers, cyclists, e-bike riders and people of every age as everyone escaped outside into the sunshine (all two days of it; sigh).

This past weekend, Whistlerites were out enjoying the rays, and so were thousands from the Lower Mainland and beyond.

I think it’s fair to say that our “open for business” message is being heard.

From appearances, it really looked like people had embraced the idea of expanding their bubbles—I’d say very enthusiastically. While I didn’t see groups of more than 50 people together as I biked around the Valley Trail, there were definitely some pretty sizable bubbles of people picnicking and partying.

It’s been a challenging four months and even the most patient of people have pent-up energy—we all need to get out and about and reconnect. I get that.

What I don’t get is the lack of physical distancing and the lack of mask-wearing in shops, or even along the Village Stroll when we are all passing so close to each other that we cannot keep two metres apart, or when we are standing in line outside shops.

It is true that here in B.C. and across Canada, there was some mixed messaging about wearing face masks as we entered the pandemic as our new reality. (In a virtual Q&A with Sea to Sky medical health officer Dr. Geoff McKee this week, he said the messaging has differed somewhat in part because of the varying risks of transmission depending where you reside.) 

But for the most part, those helping to guide us safely through this pandemic have been pretty clear recently about the importance of this.

These leaders include the medical director of the Whistler Health Care Centre (WHCC), Dr. Bruce Mohr, who sent me a passionate email this week encouraging me to get the message out about wearing masks—so I am doing just that: 

“YOU MUST WEAR A FACE MASK IF YOU CANNOT KEEP TWO METRES AWAY FROM SOMEONE!”

People have called for the wearing of face masks to be mandated by our medical health officials. But we need to remember that for enforcement, the regulations must come from government.

Last week, a group led by Canadian doctors and scientists, Masks4Canada, called for face masks to be mandatory in all indoor spaces outside the home.

Dr. Amy Tan, one of the organizers of the group, told The Globe and Mail that making them mandatory would send a clear message that they can help.

“We think that mandating is not about harsh penalties or punishment,” said Tan, a family physician and an associate professor at the University of Calgary. “It’s really to say we need to do this for our economy, for our community, to keep us safe.”

Recent research does suggest face masks may help reduce the spread of COVID-19, but there is no conclusive scientific evidence this is the case—that’s a big part of the issue in getting people to wear masks.

B.C.’s Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said she supports wearing a face mask.

“I do wear a mask myself and I encourage, and I recommend, strongly, that others do as well,” she said during a June 30 provincial briefing, explaining that the province has stopped short of mandating the use of masks out of concern for those who would have difficulty wearing one.

June 30 saw Toronto City Council approve a temporary bylaw to enforce the use of face masks and coverings for indoor public spaces in an effort to reduce the rate of transmission. Ottawa council will consider something similar on July 15.

Henry said this might be something B.C. has to consider as we continue on this pandemic journey, especially as we head into flu season.

Mask-wearing can be uncomfortable and there are people who physically cannot wear them. They are not a replacement for handwashing, and staying home when sick. But the anecdotal evidence that they help stop the spread of respiratory viruses like COVID-19 is growing stronger all the time and cannot be ignored.

Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization now recommend cloth masks for the general public, but the strongest evidence in favour of masks come from studies of real-world scenarios.

Several scientists looked at coronavirus deaths across 198 countries and found that those with cultural norms or government policies favouring mask-wearing had lower death rates (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/342198360_Association_of_country-wide_coronavirus_mortality_with_demographics_testing_lockdowns_and_public_wearing_of_masks_Update_June_15_2020).

As Whistler gets busier and busier, is it time for our municipal council to look at drawing up its own bylaw to help promote mask-wearing? n




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