Op-Ed: When it comes to mask wearing, we need to get even tougher

Op-Ed: When it comes to mask wearing, we need to get even tougher
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A face mask.

I know Dr. Bonnie Henry can do no wrong, but on the subject of masks I think she needs to get a whole lot tougher. Instead of ordering people to wear masks indoors, she now says there is “an expectation” that people will wear non-medical masks when visiting an indoor public space.

“So if I’m going to the grocery store, if I’m going to the hardware store or the Costco or on public transit or need to go into renew my driver’s licence, those are times where we need to wear a mask,” she said earlier this week.

She added that it’s not an order “because this is something I know we support as part of our mutual responsibilities to protect ourselves and protect each other.”

Well, not everyone. And there’s the rub. Most of us are taking responsibility not only for ourselves but for others: the store clerks, the bus drivers, the front line workers who are wearing masks to protect us. We need to return the favour.

Dr. Henry’s  position on masks has evolved over the past few months. Earlier this year she felt masks may give people a sense of false security, then she encouraged their use, now she’s expecting people will wear them.

British Columbia Expects. A nice slogan, but too many people still refuse to behave.

To be fair, most people are wearing masks seemingly happily so. And they sport some entertaining masks. I have muffins on mine, but that’s because I’m always hungry. But too many are refusing to wear them indoors in malls and stores.

I was at The Bay in downtown Victoria this week and was shocked at how many people didn’t wear masks, even in confined areas.

When I lined up at the till three males behind me all were mask free. To make matters worse, the middle-aged guy behind me leaned forward and asked if I could check the fine print on the socks he was about to buy because he’d forgotten his specs. He didn’t want too much polyester. I didn’t want too much virus, so I recoiled and told him I couldn’t help because I needed a magnifying glass to see that print size.  He had invaded my space, without a mask, and I wondered at what level the non-mask-wearers operate. Don’t they listen to, watch or read the news? Are they in denial? Do they believe their rights are being trampled? Do they all adore Donald Trump?

At The Bay, I counted at least 15 people without masks as I wandered around.

At WalMart and at Wholefoods Uptown masks are mandatory and people willingly wear them as far as I can tell.  I felt very safe and comfortable when I went to the stores later the same day and felt I was among civil, responsible people.

Dr. Bonnie Henry’s Be Kind, Be Calm, Be Safe mantra is more important than ever now, as we brace for a winter of increasing infection rates. But it’s also a time to be firm – and leave no room for confusion. I applaud those stores, like Bolen Books, who have stood firm against the anti-mask crowd.  I have the right to exclude idiots from entering my home, and so does any store that feels threatened by a small group of uncivil contrarians.

Civility is something in short supply these days, but it does make a difference.

The New York Times today looked at why Germany and Canada have had COVID-19 rates significantly lower than their neighbours. For one thing, it said, both countries have done a better job of avoiding wishful thinking than either the Trump administration or many European governments.”

But specific actions have also mattered, it says. “Unlike in the U.S., conservative politicians in Canada are not doubting the wisdom of mask-wearing. This spring, Doug Ford, the conservative premier of Ontario, described people protesting social-distancing measures as “a bunch of yahoos.”

And some top public-health officials in Canadian provinces have become semi-celebrities, says the newspaper, as they have repeatedly urged social distancing, mask-wearing and other forms of caution. Imagine versions of Anthony Fauci, but ones who are praised across the political spectrum, rather than being called “a disaster,” as President Trump did with Fauci.

We in Canada are more trusting of our leaders than in many parts of the world, The Times suggests. And, yes, Dr. Henry elicits trust and good behaviour.

But not everyone is listening. A friend suggests we start shaming the non-mask-wearers, and call them out in stores, but that’s not the Canadian way and the last thing we need now is confrontation.

Dr. Henry may feel that the more of us who wear masks, the example will be set and more and more will join in, and maybe she’s right. But she may have more faith in the conversion of all the people than me. That’s why I prefer a simple order that all of us can understand, that doesn’t create confusion or loopholes.

On the plus side, I was also slightly stunned, and impressed, by the number of people wearing masks as they walked outside in downtown Victoria. Young and old, masks were everywhere. I don’t know if that was out of an abundance of caution, or people just being civil.

And civilized. Good for them. They give us all hope.

Ian Haysom is the former news director for Global BC and a consultant for CHEK News. 

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