Nova Scotia

Infectious disease expert sees no 'good scientific reason' for N.S. lifting mask mandate

Dr. Lisa Barrett, who oversaw the province's COVID-19 rapid testing program, said Monday she has yet to see evidence that making masks voluntary is a good idea.

'It certainly isn't the thing that makes the most sense to me,' says Dr. Lisa Barrett

A woman with blonde hair sits in front of a mural showing explosions of paint on a white background.
Dr. Lisa Barrett, a leading expert in vaccines and infectious diseases, says she doesn't see a 'good scientific reason' for lifting Nova Scotia's mask mandate. (CBC)

One of Nova Scotia's foremost experts on infectious diseases and vaccines is questioning the province's rationale for wanting to eliminate the mandatory mask requirement in indoor places starting in a week.

Dr. Lisa Barrett, who recently tested positive for COVID-19 despite being fully vaccinated, said Monday she has yet to see evidence that making masks voluntary is a good idea.

"It certainly isn't the thing that makes the most sense to me," Barrett told CBC Nova Scotia's Amy Smith. "And this has nothing to do with me being COVID positive — it has to do with looking at some of the metrics, some of our indicator countries in Europe and other parts of the world.

"They've let their precautions go and now they're seeing cases go back up." 

Rising case numbers overseas

Although she said the infection increase in places such as the United Kingdom, Spain, Denmark, Italy and Germany have not  led to a corresponding jump in hospitalizations or deaths, Barrett added it is still too early to conclude those things aren't on the horizon.

Barrett said allowing people to choose whether or not to wear masks would have the same effect in Nova Scotia as it has had in European countries that have dropped the masking requirement: a rise in the number of cases.

"I don't see a good scientific reason for taking away masks in public places at this point during a respiratory season with a COVID pandemic," said Barrett, who oversaw the province's COVID-19 rapid testing program.

No change of plans

Premier Tim Houston announced last month that nearly all COVID-19 restrictions would be lifted on March 21 if "everything stays on course."

The PC government has not given any indication of a change in plans.

As of March 10, the province had reported 216 deaths resulting from COVID-19 infections since declaring a state of emergency nearly two years ago. Most have been seniors and people vulnerable to infections.

Barbara Adams is the minister of seniors and long-term care. (CBC)

When asked if she was comfortable lifting the mask mandate, Nova Scotia's minister of seniors and long-term care said Monday case numbers would be monitored daily.

"I don't know if you can be comfortable in the middle of a pandemic," Barbara Adams told CBC News.

"I'm confident that we are making the right decisions and that we're going to be adjustable based on what happens to our case numbers."

with files from Amy Smith