When in doubt, wear a mask out

Anti-maskers won't like it, but starting next week, masks are mandatory in public indoor places in Nova Scotia.

click to enlarge When in doubt, wear a mask out
Kate O'Connor
As of Friday, July 31, masks are the law in most indoor places throughout Nova Scotia.

It's a big day for masks in Nova Scotia. Today the rule came into effect requiring passengers and drivers to wear masks on buses, ferries and in taxis. And moments ago at their COVID-19 briefing, premier Stephen McNeil and top doc Robert Strang announced that starting next Friday, July 31, non-medical masks will be mandatory in indoor public places throughout the province.

The list of public places is long—Strang talked about them for 10 minutes straight—and there are some exceptions for young kids and medical needs. But the basic idea is that, in order to reduce C19 transmission, people should wear masks as much as possible around other people. "Let’s all make wearing a mask a habit. When you grab your keys to leave home, grab your mask as well," Strang said at the end of his monologue. "All you have to really remember is this: When in doubt, wear a mask."

(Strang may be good at public health, but he needs some work at catchphrases. "When in doubt, wear a mask out" gets more memorable thanks to the rhyme.) 

Not everyone is so into mask use. Some people have taken to protesting masks, deeming them an infringement on human rights—and not just in the United States. Last Sunday a group (Strang said it was just 12 people) took to the streets in Halifax, and marched along the waterfront fighting against mandated mask use.

But lung doctors like Mohit Bhutani definitely side with Strang. Bhutani says it's less about telling people what to do and more about working together.

“This is not going to be for the next 50 years. We’re talking about for the next few months until we get this thing under control," says Bhutani, who teaches pulmonary medicine at the University of Alberta's med school. "Try to help your fellow citizens and the healthcare system.”

Many anti-maskers suggest there are long-term health effects when it comes to wearing masks, but research says that’s just not the case.

“There’s no data on that whatsoever,” Bhutani says. “Short-term use of this is commonplace. If you look at hospitals and surgical rooms, doctors and nurses wear these for hours everyday while in the operating room. They don’t have any effect on their lungs.”

The World Health Organization also says non-surgical or homemade masks are still effective in the same way as cough etiquette: it provides an extra layer between you and other peoples' coughs and sneezes.

Strang says very few people have health issues that make it difficult to breathe while wearing a mask. But for them, it's even more important that those who don’t have difficulty wearing masks do so. A mask is an effective tool to reduce the chance you will pass the coronavirus onto someone else, although it's only one weapon in the fight against COVID-19.

“There’s other controlled measures that we can take in order to protect the most vulnerable people, and that includes hand washing, physical distancing and not touching your face,” says Michelle Donaldson, who speaks for the Lung Association of Nova Scotia.

As inconvenient and sometimes uncomfortable as a mask can be, especially in the summer heat, wearing it is one small ask that helps protect everyone around you. “We’re really just trying to help each other out and try to make the best outcome of this as possible," Bhutani says. "Somewhere along the lines that message has gotten lost, and I think we just need to reclaim that."

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