Too soon to remove masks with threat of COVID-19 variants? Experts weigh in

Click to play video: 'Calgary city council repeals mask bylaw'
Calgary city council repeals mask bylaw
Members of Calgary city council voted to repeal the temporary face covering bylaw on Monday. But as Sarah Offin reports, you’ll still need a mask to enter all city facilities and vehicles, including Calgary Transit. – Jul 6, 2021

With COVID-19 cases dropping across Canada, so are some of the strictest public health measures — such as mandatory masks — in some places.

City council in Calgary voted Monday to repeal the city’s mask bylaw — joining most of Alberta in no longer requiring masks in public places like restaurants and shops.

B.C. has also eliminated its masking requirements for COVID-19, and as the summer goes on, removing mandatory masks will likely become a point of discussion in other parts of Canada, most of which still have some kind of requirement to wear a mask in indoor settings.

Click to play video: 'Calgary city council votes to repeal COVID-19 mask bylaw'
Calgary city council votes to repeal COVID-19 mask bylaw

In Edmonton, which dropped its masking bylaw on July 1, restaurant owner Cyrilles Kobbert told Global News that some of his customers still like to put on a mask as they enter the restaurant.

Story continues below advertisement

“It’s actually both ways. Some people keep it on and a lot of people don’t,” he said, adding it’s up to the customer.

“We’re open to anybody — person with a mask, without a mask, it’s ok. They can make their own decision.”

But is lifting mask mandates wise right now, as the more highly transmissible Delta variant moves into Canadian communities? Craig Jenne isn’t sure.

“I’d like to see us hang on to the mask bylaw a little bit longer,” said Jenne, an associate professor in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Infectious Diseases at the University of Calgary.

“Although we have really good first dose vaccine coverage, we’re still lagging behind a little bit in the second doses. And unfortunately, the current version of the virus that’s out there in the community, this Delta variant is actually pretty good at infecting people that only have one shot of vaccine,” he said.

Currently, around 45 per cent of eligible Albertans have had two doses of vaccine, compared to 41 per cent of eligible Canadians, according to data from the website COVID-19 Tracker.

“It’s only a matter of really a couple of weeks before we get to that threshold of the majority of Albertans having a second shot and perhaps another week or two after that for them to develop immunity,” Jenne said. “So that safe goal is well within sight. But it is still a few weeks away, and things such as masks can really fill that gap until people get their second vaccine dose.”

Story continues below advertisement

Not everyone agrees, though.

Dr. Brian Conway, medical director of the Vancouver Infectious Diseases Centre, thinks that lifting mask mandates right now in B.C. makes sense.

“The number of cases is going down. We are having no high level community based outbreaks. We are not seeing any widespread dissemination of any of the new, more dangerous variants. And the vaccine program is going very well,” he said.

Click to play video: 'Is B.C. losing masks too soon?'
Is B.C. losing masks too soon?

The World Health Organization last week urged people — even those who have been vaccinated — to keep wearing masks.

“Vaccines alone won’t stop the community transmission,” said Dr. Mariângela Simão at a press conference June 29. “People need to continue to use masks consistently, be in ventilated spaces. Hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette, the physical distance, avoid crowding, this still continues to be extremely important, even if you are vaccinated, when you have community transmission ongoing.”

Story continues below advertisement

Israel, where about 60 per cent of the population has had at least one dose of vaccine, dropped the requirement to wear masks indoors in mid-June, but re-imposed that mandate at the end of the month in response to a surge in COVID-19 cases.

It’s possible we could end up doing the same in Canada, Conway said, though he expects a smaller, more targeted approach.

“I think we will reimpose mask mandates selectively in response to outbreaks,” he said.

This could even include influenza outbreaks, he said, as mask-wearing potentially becomes a more normal part of our society.

“Don’t throw out your mask,” he said.

– with files from Global News’ Heather Yourex-West and Reuters

Sponsored content