Experts are in agreement that bringing back mask mandates is the right move amid rising COVID-19 cases and a return to school this fall.
B.C. and Manitoba announced Tuesday that masks will again be mandatory for indoor spaces.
B.C. had only removed the policy two months ago but it will return on Wednesday, Aug. 25, while Manitoba lifted the rules at the beginning of August and did not specify when the order will come into place.
Meanwhile, Quebec on Tuesday as well ordered mandatory masks at elementary and high schools in nine regions, including Montreal, after previously saying in June that masks wouldn’t be necessary in classrooms.
The onslaught of returning public health policies comes as the provinces are seeing an uptick in COVID-19 cases during the early stages of a fourth wave of the virus.
“It makes sense,” said infectious diseases specialist at University Health Network and the University of Toronto Alon Vaisman, referring to the return of masks.
Vaisman said that other places such as Texas, Florida, Alabama and Tennessee that removed their mask mandates initially did well but eventually the virus caught up to them with an increase in severe cases of COVID-19 and deaths.
“In Canada, it’s not likely to be as severe as in Texas, because our vaccination rates are much higher. But even a small slice of even a portion of what they’re experiencing would still be significant for us,” he said.
“It makes sense to pull back on things when you can, but right now, there would definitely be benefits from having mask mandates in indoor settings.”
Vaisman said there is a general consensus that masking does reduce transmission of the virus.
“There is no doubt that it is helpful,” he said. “It’s one of the least invasive things you can do to try to prevent transmission.”
Despite Canada having one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, it is still unclear whether the vaccines are effective in limiting transmission of the Delta variant, according to University of Toronto Biomedical Engineering Assistant Professor Omar Khan.
“If we were just dealing with Alpha and Beta, we would have been fine. But with Delta, that’s where you have to look at the tools we have now,” he said.
“Those tools are masks and distancing.”
While being vaccinated should prevent severe illness and hospitalization, transmissions are still important to prevent to avoid further mutations of the virus and spreading COVID-19 to the unvaccinated, such as children under 12, according to Khan.
“We’re still in the middle of this, let’s be honest, it never ended,” he said, referring as well to high global cases of the virus.
“We’re always at risk of what will be evolving out there.”
Both Khan and Vaisman predict a rise in cases in the fall as the school year begins, making masks important in classrooms so youth are not carriers of the disease to others — an especially high risk for those not vaccinated.
“Children can become the reservoir for various viral infections that can spread to adults,” Vaisman said. “If you can do whatever you can on the children, then you’ll go a long way to protecting society as well.”
While there have been some studies that suggest masks negatively impact children’s socialization, Vaisman ultimately thinks the benefits outweigh the risks.
“If you can protect them with masking, if you can avoid a wave, then you should do whatever you can short of closing schools to protect them.”
—With files from Richard Zussman, Shane Gibson and Kalina Laframboise