The group Masks4Canada is calling on the federal government and Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam to implement a federal mask mandate across the country.
The Masks4Canada group was originally formed by a group of doctors and dentists in B.C. during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. They are now an alliance of over 1,900 Canadian physicians, professionals and citizens who recently wrote a letter asking the federal government to make a more uniform mandate when it comes to wearing masks. This comes as cases continue to rise country-wide and mask mandates vary from province to province.
This is not the first time that the group has called for a mask mandate. Back in August, Masks4Canada called on the province of B.C. for masks to be made mandatory in public spaces. They have also sent open letters to Alberta, Ontario and Quebec health officials.
The BC Centre for Disease Control says masks should be worn if you are sick or if you are caring for someone with COVID-19. Otherwise, it is a personal choice whether or not you wear a mask, although provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has said a mask is a useful layer of protection if a two-metre distance cannot be maintained.
Although masks are not mandatory in B.C., many businesses and organizations have taken mandates into their own hands. BC Transit, TransLink retail stores like Superstore and Walmart, schools, public institutions and many health care locations require masks. Some locally owned businesses have also made it mandatory to wear a mask upon entry, while middle and high school students must wear a face covering in “high traffic areas” within their schools. Masks are also required for personal care services.
Each province has different rules regarding masks, hence Masks4Canada’s call for more definitive direction as the second wave begins across parts of the country.
The BC CDC says it’s important that mask wearing is combined with other preventative measures including hand-washing and physical distancing.
“[A federal mask mandate] will send a strong message that we are in this together and we can once again get this under control if we work together as a country, not as a patchwork of bylaws done at the municipal or provincial level,” reads the letter from Masks4Canada. “With interprovincial travel, and likely more international travel in the future, our community cases within the provinces that are not doing well will start to spread to the other provinces that are doing better. We need to learn from other countries by adopting measures from those that are doing well, and avoiding the mistakes of those that are doing poorly. It is up to your government to step up and keep us all safe and let our economy continue to recover.”
The letter goes on to say that “young people” continue to party and exceed gathering limits. Masks4Canada says that they agree with mandatory masking for students in school, but ask why this is not uniform across the country for students from Kindergarten to Grade 12 and those in universities and colleges.
“We are very happy that some municipal bylaws have mandated masks in all indoor public spaces such as grocery stores and shopping malls, and on public transit such as buses, taxis, and Ubers,” said Masks4Canada. “What about private businesses, factories, hospitals, and common areas in condos [or] apartment buildings?”
The group says they understand that businesses need to re-open so the economy can rebuild, however they wonder why “high-risk” businesses are still able to run without masks including bars, gyms, casinos and strip clubs.
Masks4Canada says cases are occurring in high-risk, crowded situations. They called this the “Three C’s”: Crowded places, close-contact settings and closed spaces.
“Environments that violate the Three C’s include private businesses and factories, schools including universities and colleges, hospitals, common areas in condos/apartment buildings, weddings in banquet halls, places of worship, gyms/sports facilities, and private parties,” wrote Masks4Canada. “In these situations, people often do not or are unable to distance due to the nature of the work, or there is a sense of ‘these are people we know and trust so there is no reason to distance from them.’ It is in these situations where mandatory masking will help to protect those we know and trust.”
Canada’s COVID-19 guidelines make no mention of the virus spreading through aerosols, but rather they say that COVID-19 spreads through close contact, contaminated surfaces and common greetings like hand shaking and hugs.
Masks4Canada says this means that even if people are trying to avoid crowded spaces and close-contact by staying two metres apart, it is still possible for them to transmit the virus to each other in an enclosed, poorly ventilated space if they are not masked.
They say that mandatory lockdown is not sustainable from an economic standpoint and that mandatory masks would add another layer of protection.
“Out of all of these preventative measures, only masks that are properly worn can stop the virus at its source,” says Masks4Canada. “Masks are a very low cost measure compared to the incredibly high costs of testing, ER and assessment centre visits, and ICU stays which are already overwhelming the system and are increasing at rates that we will soon be unable to control.”
Public health advice on the use of masks has changed over the course of the pandemic. At first, Tam and other health officials discouraged mask use but have since shifted to recommending them, specifically because carriers of the virus can spread it without showing symptoms.
“But a recommendation, even a strong one, has not been enough. By making masks mandatory, hopefully we will be able to achieve 80 per cent masking which is needed in order to reduce transmission,” said the letter from Masks4Canada.
Masks4Canada says education around proper mask wearing will make it easy for everyone to follow the suggested mandate. Combining mask wearing with proper hand-washing and physical distancing means less chance of transmission. They say masks must cover both the nose and mouth at all times and should be a cloth or disposable mask (not a bandana, neck gaiter or valved mask). They suggest that rather than handing out fines for not wearing a mask, a proper mask and education should be provided instead.
With files from The Canadian Press
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