About two dozen people gathered in front of the Manitoba legislature to protest mask use and potential mask mandates amid the COVID-19 pandemic before marching down Broadway Sunday, but a public health and infectious disease expert says the protestors’ claims about masks are completely unfounded.
“This something going on all throughout Canada, from Vancouver all the way to the other coast there, Halifax, and every city is having a march to unmask,” said Patrick Allard, an organizer with a group that has organized past protests against COVID-19 restrictions, Manitoba Together.
“(The protest was) to show Dr. Roussin that we need to have our health in our own hands, we need the freedom to choose if we wear a mask or not,” Allard added, referring to Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief provincial public health officer.
Allard and other protestors also pointed to relatively low numbers of COVID-19 — 343 total since the novel coronavirus arrived in Manitoba and 18 new cases this past week — as a reason to further ease restrictions.
But Dr. Jason Kindrachuk, a University of Manitoba assistant medical microbiology professor and Canada research chair who studies infectious diseases and viruses, sees misinformation and pushback against masks in Manitoba, and at large, as baffling.
“It’s a message coordinated on memes and kind of flashy discussion points that are not based in reality,” Kindrachuk said of the pushback against masks.
“Masks ultimately will help prevent a certain amount of the virus from being transmitted, in particular from those people that either are asymptomatically infected or in the presymptomatic stages of an infection when we know they can transmit, but they don’t notice or have any obvious overt symptoms.”
Manitoba has not made masks mandatory in public, while most major municipalities in Ontario and Quebec have.
“I look at this idea of wearing masks, and we’ve seen this kind of co-opted by the (anti-vaccine) movement as… an infringement on people’s rights. I don’t quite understand that. This is something that we can provide to people who are vulnerable to this disease,” Kindrachuk said.
Kindrachuk called masks equivalent to frequent hand-washing and physical distancing — a public health measure to protect against the spread of the virus.
Protestors waved signs, some arguing masks are dangerous to peoples’ health.
“Ultimately with something like a cloth mask, there is zero data to support any sort of infringement on oxygen delivered to the lungs — but somehow that message has now permeated all of social media, all of these people saying ‘within 10 minutes I couldn’t breathe’,” Kindrachuk said.
“It doesn’t infringe on the amount of oxygen we’re delivering to our lungs — we know that there are in some cases with people who have respiratory complications, that they may have a more difficult time with breathing because obviously you’re wearing a mask over top of your face and it gets moist and warm, but that would be something those peoples’ physicians would talk to them about.”