End of mandatory masks a surprise
ANDY WALKER Andy Walker is a P.E.I.-based political commentator. His column appears every week in the Journal Pioneer.
End of mandatory masks a surprise: Walker The decision by Dr. Heather Morrison to make Prince Edward Island the first province in the region to shed its mandatory mask policy caught many people by surprise. While very few Islanders would admit they like wearing the masks, it had become routine. Before the end of the mask mandate, very few people could be spotted in public without a face covering. Unlike some high air pollution areas throughout the world, where donning a mask before heading outside was second nature long before COVID-19, masks were rare here before March 2020. Let’s face it, our risk of getting COVID has been relatively low throughout the pandemic. However, the masks have produced a positive side effect — namely, they have slowed the spread of other airborne viruses like colds and flu. Some people maintain they will continue to wear the masks even after COVID-19 disappears, especially if they are in large crowds. During the pandemic, Dr. Morrison was always known to err on the side of caution. Our restrictions have been among the toughest in the country and, if we are honest, many of us have complained more than once over the past 16 months that our rules when we had no cases of COVID were stricter than in jurisdictions where the virus was running rampant. That is why the mask decision is so puzzling. We were the last province in the region to adopt the policy and the first to get rid of it. Businesses and services, which had to do much of the heavy lifting when it comes to enforcing the policy, were given little to no notice or direction before the decision to remove the mask mandate was announced. Most of the major decisions announced by the chief public health office have a phase-in period to allow those impacted to make the necessary adjustments. The lifting of the mask mandate was effective immediately. It leaves more questions than answers. Dr. Morrison was clear she still recommends wearing masks, adding people should “consider their own health, vaccination status and the vaccination status of others around them, and their exposure to the public when deciding to wear a mask indoors.” It is hard to know the vaccination status of strangers we come in contact with, and the mask removal means an extra level of risk for those dealing directly with the public. The pronouncement by Dr. Morrison puts stores that would like to continue asking their customers to wear masks in an untenable position. While they can still make the ask, the weight of the Island’s top public health official is no longer behind it. The move may well be P.E.I.’s attempt to give a helping hand to the tourism sector. New Brunswick now has essentially no restrictions to visitors from within Canada and Nova Scotia does not require any paperwork for those coming from within the Atlantic region. Meanwhile, everybody coming to P.E.I. (including those of us who live here and want to come back) has to fill in the much-maligned P.E.I. Pass, which has proven difficult to navigate and has already been revamped several times. The requirement for those from within the region to be tested was dropped at the same time as the change in the mask policy. Now we can say “at least when you get here, you don’t have to wear a mask if you don’t want to.”