Portage la Prairie mayor urges citizens to wear masks to protect each other from COVID-19
Manitoba public health officials have not made mask use mandatory
The mayor of Portage la Prairie, Man., is urging people in his city to wear face masks when out in public to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Irvine Ferris made the push after a local doctor called him this past weekend — as Phase 4 of Manitoba's reopening plan began — and stressed the importance of wearing face masks, the mayor told CBC Radio Noon host Marjorie Dowhos.
"The doctors really felt that it's time to discuss what steps we can take as a community now to continue to manage this," said Ferris.
"The virus is in our community. It's not going away any time soon. But there are steps that we can take to ensure we safely manage it."
Research suggests non-medical masks, if worn properly, may be an effective way to prevent the wearer from spreading droplets carrying the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
While many jurisdictions have introduced public health orders requiring masks in public spaces, Manitoba has not done so.
WATCH | Mayor of Portage la Prairie talks masks with host Marjorie Dowhos:
Manitoba's chief public health officer, Dr. Brent Roussin, has continued to encourage measures like good hand hygiene and physical distancing to help keep Manitobans safe.
He has said, though, that in situations where physical distancing is not possible, it would be appropriate to wear a mask.
He also said on Monday that people can expect health officials to advise them to wear masks in public indoor spaces once flu season arrives, or earlier if Manitoba sees higher levels of community transmission.
As of Wednesday, all passengers, visitors and staff members will be required to wear masks at James Armstrong Richardson International Airport, the Winnipeg Airports Authority said Monday.
Then on Tuesday, Ontario's Northwestern Health Unit — whose service area covers dozens of communities, including part of the Kenora area — announced that masks will have to be worn in all public indoor spaces starting Aug. 17.
In Portage la Prairie, some people wear masks, others don't, said Ferris, who recently started wearing a face mask when visiting crowded indoor places.
He added that there are currently no plans to make masks mandatory in Portage la Prairie — located about 85 kilometres west of Winnipeg — but some businesses have taken that step themselves.
While some have argued mandatory mask rules infringe on their rights, Ferris believes wearing a mask is a symbol of community.
"When I put a mask on, what I'm saying is that I … respect you, I care about you," he said.
"If I choose to have all that information and still not take those steps, then I'm also sending a message, aren't I?"
On Tuesday, public health officials announced an eighth Manitoban who had COVID-19 has died. The man in his 70s was from the Southern Health region, and had not been in hospital prior to his death on July 22.
There are currently 78 active cases of COVID-19 in Manitoba. Three people are in hospital, two of whom are in critical care.
With files from Marjorie Dowhos