Discussions around a potential mask mandate in N.S. ongoing as province opens

Some Nova Scotians wish for stronger rules on masking
Some Nova Scotians feel public health officials should make non-medical masks mandatory in public spaces.

Some Nova Scotians feel too many people aren’t wearing non-medical masks in public spaces.

Like many provinces across Canada, Nova Scotia is cautiously reopening its economy and border to customers and travellers.

As of July 3, Atlantic provinces have created an Atlantic travel bubble, which permits interprovincial travel between Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador without self-isolation.

The cross-border travel was previously restricted for several months due to efforts to contain transmission of COVID-19.

Read more: Here’s what you’ll need to do to enter each province in the Atlantic bubble

With the gradual reopening comes renewed conversations around personal public health protocols that all residents are urged to take.

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Top of the list is ongoing discussions around wearing non-medical masks in places where a safe distance can’t be kept.

“If we’re not careful, we run the very real risk of having a resurgence of COVID-19 and having to tighten things up again,” said Dr. Robert Strang, the chief medical officer of health for Nova Scotia, during the July 3 provincial briefing.

During that briefing, Dr. Strang urged Nova Scotians not to become complacent with public health measures.

That includes having people wear masks in environments where a six-foot distance isn’t possible.

COVID-19: Edmonton debating whether masks should be mandatory
COVID-19: Edmonton debating whether masks should be mandatory

Some Nova Scotian residents feel too many people aren’t wearing non-medical masks indoors where space is limited.

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Dartmouth resident Kate Watson says a recent shopping trip left her feeling discouraged and overwhelmed over a lack of consideration for recommended public health measures.

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“There were literally people mocking people who wore masks. There were a couple of young guys that were saying, ‘just breathe the fresh air,'” Watson said.

“So, it’s very divisive and I don’t think it needs to be. I mean, the science says we should do it, I don’t think it’s a question about whether it’s a good thing”

Read more: Nova Scotia reports no new cases of coronavirus on Sunday

Some Canadian municipalities are taking the option of wearing masks out of public hands.

Toronto city council recently approved a temporary bylaw that enforces masks to be worn inside public spaces, such as malls, restaurants and farmer’s markets.

Watson feels the Halifax Regional Municipality should follow suit.

“I feel like people shouldn’t be allowed to make excuses. If they want to go into a crowded space, then they need to wear a mask,” she said.

Read more: Toronto council votes to make wearing face masks mandatory in closed public settings

Dr. Strang says evidence around the public health benefits of masks has been ongoing throughout the pandemic.

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“We have certainly strengthened our recommendation around masking but we have a lot of work to do to change the norm around masking. So, I’m really asking Nova Scotians to think about what they need to do to improve their practice around physical distancing,” he said.

Dr. Strang maintains that wearing a mask when physical distancing can’t be maintained is a crucial public health safety step Nova Scotians should take.

Watson says she’s seen too many examples of people not following distancing rules without masks on and hopes a mandate comes sooner than later.

“You’d love to think that everybody is looking for everybody else but that’s not my experience. So, if Dr. Strang feels very strongly, then I think it needs to be something people don’t have a choice about,” she said.

Quebec government makes mask wearing mandatory on public transit
Quebec government makes mask wearing mandatory on public transit

Dr. Strang says a mandatory mask bylaw isn’t off the table but educating and informing the public about the ongoing necessary precautions is his preferred approach for now.

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“If we started to see a substantive increase in COVID-19, I’d be certainly thinking much more strongly and talking to the premier about maybe it’s the time to be going to mandatory,” he said.