PEI

Keep wearing your mask even after mandates drop, says public health research group

A group of researchers advising the Canadian government is recommending people continue to wear masks in high-risk settings even if provincial health officials drop mask mandates.

‘We need to help them do what’s right and to lead’

Mask mandates are currently scheduled to be lifted on P.E.I. on April 7. (Jane Robertson/CBC)

A group of researchers advising the Canadian government is recommending people continue to wear masks in high-risk settings even if provincial health officials drop mask mandates.

The current plan on P.E.I. is to drop mask mandates in Step 3 of the Transition Plan to Living with COVID-19, which is scheduled for April 7.

The Coronavirus Variants Rapid Response Network (CoVaRR-Net) is advising that, with the BA.2  subvariant expecting to soon start spreading across Canada, people should continue to wear masks.

"I think public policy makers may be wanting to follow the public and be popular," said CoVaRR-Net member Cheryl Camillo, a professor of public health policy at the University of Regina.

When public health measures become voluntary people grow increasingly lax, says Prof. Cheryl Camillo. (Germaine Wilson/CBC)

"It's not easy imposing policies on people, and policy makers are human beings and sometimes they find that hard to do and they want to do the easy thing. So we need to help them do what's right and to lead, and in this case lead to protect us."

The BA.2 has been spreading across Europe with some deadly impact, Camillo said, and it will spread in Canada that much more easily if people aren't wearing masks.

Dropping mandates puts people in the position of protecting themselves, said Camillo.

"If we don't have measures in place to remind us how to protect ourselves then over time we get more and more lax," she said, adding she has witnessed this in Saskatchewan — where mask mandates were dropped some time ago.

"Each time I go out I see fewer and fewer people wearing masks."

Hospitalizations on the rise

April 7 is not yet a firm date for the dropping of mask mandates on P.E.I.

The transition plan was announced Feb. 8 and, at the time, Islanders were told the dates were subject to change as the province watched how the pandemic unfolded. Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Heather Morrison has said impact on the health-care system will be the key measure in making decisions on how to proceed.

On Feb. 8, the number of Islanders hospitalized with COVID-19 was nine, on its way down from a peak of 19 at the end of January. It would reach zero on Feb. 21.

But hospitalizations began climbing again and there were 13 on Tuesday.

In an email to CBC News, the Chief Public Health Office said it is still monitoring the pandemic situation.

It plans to make a decision and an announcement about Step 3 before the end of the week.

With files from Island Morning

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