Editorial: Is recommend instead of mandate wise?

Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore made a strong recommendation on November 14 for people to wear masks indoors again. The province is facing a “tridemic” of infection from COVID-19, Influenza, and Respiratory Syncytial Virus, otherwise known as RSV.

Moore stopped short of issuing an indoor mask wearing mandate, despite calls from the province’s top doctors to do so. He said that the province’s health care system is facing a “triple threat” and indoor mask wearing will help lower transmission of these respiratory viruses during the winter months.

Currently Ontario’s hospitals are overloaded, again, with emergency room wait times extending over 20 hours in some cases. The province’s childrens hospitals are full with patients. Pharmacies and grocery stores are running out of over-the-counter medicines to help relieve symptoms. Many of these illnesses could be prevented or mitigated if mask wearing was mandatory – yet it is not. This begs the question, while Ontario’s health care system is overloaded yet again, is it better to recommend mask wearing instead of mandating it?

Following the SARS pandemic in 2002-04, it became common and socially acceptable to wear a mask indoors once colder weather returned in the heaviest hit parts of Asia. Almost three years into the COVID-19 pandemic countries like Taiwan, which were among the first to require face masks to be worn, are just starting to lift that requirement. Ontario lifted its mask wearing mandate in March. Since then there have been three-to-four “waves” of increased infection. Masks are optional in most places, and those still wearing masks are considered the exception, not the norm.

If people continue to choose not to wear indoor face masks, and hospital numbers continue to climb due to the “tridemic”, at what point should mask wearing mandates return? It is a political, rather than a scientific question. A more apt question to ask is, who would take on the political backlash to do so?

Local public health units and their medical officers of health have the power to implement mask wearing mandates. Individual hospitals, where multiple doctors and CEOs are all calling for a return to mask mandates, have the power to implement mask wearing rules for those facilities. Municipalities can implement rules for masking in their facilities, as can individual business owners. The only place restricted from implementing mask rules are school boards: which the Ministry of Education has previously said they are not allowed to do so.

If no one wants to take responsibility to help keep others safe, and no government, agency, or municipality wants to take the flack for mask rules, then it is time to add more emergency room space.

Since you’re here…

… Thanks for reading this article. Local news is important. We hope that you continue to support local news by reading The Leader, online and in print. Please consider subscribing to the print edition of the newspaper. Click here to subscribe today.