Let’s respect those who continue to wear a mask!

Sabrina Almeida

After almost two years of stringent public health restrictions, one would think that the return to the pre-pandemic normal would be warmly welcomed by all. Yet many are not ready to let go of the measures we’ve complained about endlessly.

Society is particularly divided over the lifting of the mask mandate which has been seen as a critical line of defence against the coronavirus. We hated them but won’t give them up now that we can… it appears!

Come Monday Ontarians will no longer be required to mask up in most indoor settings including schools, restaurants and bars, gyms, movie theatres, shopping centres, etc. (They will however be needed on public transit.) But everyone I’ve spoken to says they will continue masking up in crowded indoor public spaces like grocery stores and shopping centres.

Surprisingly those in favour of protective facial coverings appear to outnumber the people who can’t wait to ditch them. Nationally, 73 per cent said they would support continuing masking requirements in public spaces according to an Angus Reid Poll.

Does that mean masks are still necessary? Or are we just too afraid to give them up?

School authorities and some health care professionals in Ontario have gone on record to say it’s too early to ditch the masks. Ontario’s opposition party leaders quickly picked sides and condemned the provincial government’s move which they branded as a political one.

Ironically, whether for or against lifting restrictions, all parties are aiming to score points with voters in the upcoming June election. But irrespective of self-serving intentions, Ontario’s timing for ending the mask mandate is still highly questionable.

Around two million students will be returning to school on Monday, many having travelled outside the province and country during March Break. It seems logical to have hung on to the mask mandate for another two weeks, no?

Moreover, it’s not just masks that are going away, but COVID-19 screening protocols and the controversial vaccine passports as well. This does seem like a risky move given all the March Break activity and the fact that the BA.2 subvariant (described as “stealth Omicron”) is driving up case numbers across the world.

Health Minister Christine Elliott acknowledged that it may soon account for 50 per cent of all infections in the province and that Ontario is monitoring its global progression closely. She said it’s not impacting the health system yet, but things could change.

Ask Doug Ford and he will simply point to Ontario’s top doctor.  But it would be naïve to think that Dr. Kieran Moore didn’t have any political pressure when making decisions about lifting public health restrictions sooner rather than later.

So, from now on Ontarians will have to exercise their own judgement in the mask matter for starters. Ford has said that he will continue to wear the mask “for a few more days”.  Dr. Moore alluded to the same. The pastor at my church also encouraged us to wear masks at least till Easter (April 17) since social distancing is no longer possible.

Businesses will also have to decide whether to stick with COVID-19 protocols, modify them or banish them forever. The public will judge them accordingly, no doubt.

We’ve already been warned about a potential rise in cases as a result of capacity limits and restrictions being lifted and now the BA.2 threatens any attempts to return to a pre-pandemic normal. So chances are masks will still be around.

But there is concern that those choosing to continue wearing masks (to protect themselves or a vulnerable loved one at home) may face public backlash. Yes, the tables have turned!

Sadly, studies have shown that the pandemic has made us intolerant and divided society rather than bring us together. But we have the power to change things as we attempt to turn the page on COVID-19.

So, let’s be respectful of people’s choices especially when they are different from our own.

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