Call for mandatory masks across New Brunswick grows louder
Epidemiologist says now is the time for people to get used to wearing a mask when out in public
With more and more businesses and organizations requiring masks in indoor public places, some say now is the time for New Brunswick to join Nova Scotia and Quebec and make mandatory masks the law.
Since Tuesday, all Atlantic Superstores have required shoppers to wear masks, joining Walmart and some smaller businesses that had already adopted such a policy. Starbucks will require them starting Sept. 14.
Barbara McQuinn, who shops in Fredericton, said she's been wearing a mask for months and wishes everyone would do the same.
"It makes you feel a lot safer," she said of shopping where masks are mandatory.
"If you're going to be out in public with the people, you should, because you don't know if you got it or not. And it's not something that I would want to get."
McQuinn has gone so far as to avoid businesses that don't require shoppers to wear masks.
Masks aren't mandatory in New Brunswick, but the province's emergency order says people must wear them if that's a rule at a business.
Joey Wade, also of Fredericton, said he always wears a mask when he is in an indoor public space. He wants the provincial government to make masks mandatory rather than leaving it up to individual businesses and organizations.
"I think people should wear a mask and I think it should be mandatory until this is over with," he said.
Epidemiologist argues for mask rule
Dr. Colin Furness is an infection control epidemiologist based in Toronto, where city council voted to make masks and face coverings mandatory in indoor public spaces in early July.
"If it were up to me to craft the message for New Brunswick, I would say New Brunswick suffered a long lockdown, they were very patient. Let's not lose that, let's never go back there again."
Department of Health spokesperson Bruce Macfarlane said in an email that the mandatory order from the province does require people to wear a mask when two metres of distance can't be maintained.
He added that everyone should have a mask with them at all times when they are out in public.
"Since COVID-19 is a new virus, new evidence is constantly emerging about how to control it, and our guidance may change based on new evidence," Macfarlane said.
While Furness endorses the advice that people wear a mask when two metres of distance can't be maintained, he feels there needs to be a clearer policy.
"When you take a really important intervention like masks, and you say it's optional, you can polarize the population."
Mandatory masks will be needed
Furness said New Brunswick has done a great job of managing COVID-19, and right now the province is safe, but that could change quickly.
"Flu season is coming, respiratory virus season is coming. It's not going to be pretty, and just about the only thing that I know we have in our arsenal right now to really blunt a second wave — a vicious second wave — is mask wearing," he said.
"In other words, you're going to need it."
In Moncton, Matt Fullerton and his two young daughters all wear face masks when they go grocery shopping.
"We're used to it, we have no problem with it," he said.
The family spent some of the summer at a cottage in Nova Scotia, where masks have been mandatory since the end of July.
Newfoundland and Labrador and Quebec also have mandatory mask rules for indoor public spaces along with many large cities, including Toronto, Ottawa, Edmonton and Calgary. Elsewhere, it remains a patchwork of rules by individual businesses and organizations.
Parties weigh in on mandatory masks
CBC News asked all of the political parties whether they support mandatory masks across New Brunswick.
A spokesperson for NDP Leader Mackenzie Thomason said he would support whatever is recommended by Public Health and Dr. Jennifer Russell, the chief medical officer of health.
"If [Dr.] Russell says we should do it, the NDP would support legislation to make face masks mandatory in indoor public spaces," said Nathan Davies.
Kris Austin, leader of the People's Alliance Party, said a mandatory mask rule isn't something he is "looking for, unless the Department of Public Health can demonstrate there is a need."
Liberal Leader Kevin Vickers said if the chief medical officer of health recommends a mandatory mask policy, he would "follow her expert opinion."
The Progressive Conservative Party and the Green Party did not respond.
Furness said now is the time to get people used to wearing masks and that everyone should expect to wear one until the spring, when a vaccine could be available.
"You're only as good as your last body count, you know. It can get awful at any time."