Masks on buses could allay fears and slow spread of virus, says councillor

With difficulties meeting physical distance health orders on some buses, one city councillor says perhaps making masks mandatory for riders will reduce concerns over the spread of COVID-19 on Winnipeg buses.

North Kildonan's Jeff Browaty says Transit should look at requiring riders to wear masks as economy opens up

A University of Toronto study showed 72 per cent of respondents would prefer riders wear masks on the bus. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)

As more businesses open and provincial health orders ease, it's likely more passengers will return to using Winnipeg Transit as a way to get to work. 

But North Kildonan councillor Jeff Browaty says fear of spreading COVID-19 will loom in some people's minds, and Transit and the city's emergency coordinator should look at making masks mandatory for people riding the buses.

"It's wise to start having these conversations in the public because there's a lot of public spaces that we have to re-examine as we go forward, and attempt to open up as as rapidly as we can and still protect our health," Browaty told CBC News.

Browaty cited a study done by the University of Toronto that showed 82 per cent of respondents would like to see passenger limits enforced and 72 per cent said they would be more comfortable if riders were forced to wear masks.

"If absolutely everybody is wearing one, it does provide full coverage on the bus. Social distancing is preferred; it's a better option, but similar to aircraft, and when you are flying at the moment, wearing masks is required," Browaty said.

The city's transit system is currently operating at near 70 per cent of its average ridership, but there are still some routes where the buses are full enough to make any physical distancing orders impossible to follow.

On Tuesday transit staff told members of the city's infrastructure and public works committee there are daily occurrences of buses with more than acceptable numbers of passengers on board.

North Kildonan councillor Jeff Browaty says masks are quickly becoming less expensive and easier to purchase. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

For example, on May 14, there were reports of 52 buses with over 15 passengers on board and 10 with between 25 and 29 riders. Transit dispatched 38 additional buses to handle the overcrowding.

Transit is currently running a reduced schedule with extra buses on some routes.

Browaty says the difficult issue of who should enforce the rules should be left to the public, along with an ad campaign to tell passengers it's up to them to protect everyone's health.

"I think what people want to do is the right thing. So it will require strong messaging and advertising to the fact that this is going to be a requirement going forward. And then hopefully we don't have too many incidents where people aren't wearing masks," Browaty said.

The chair of the public works committee believes mandatory masks on buses should be reviewed, but St. Boniface councillor Matt Allard is concerned not everyone can get a mask.

"I want to make sure they are actually available and for people on low incomes — I don't want this to become a barrier," Allard said.

A spokesperson for Winnipeg Transit told CBC News "public health orders in place currently do not mandate the use of non-medical face masks on Transit buses."


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