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Wearing masks reminds us we’re not over this yet

Wearing a mask out in public, and seeing others doing the same, shatters any illusion of normalcy, any idea that we’re living in some post-coronavirus world.

And perhaps that’s just the point.

While restrictions have been eased and more of the economy has reopened, we’re not through the woods just yet. We may want to get back to our routines, particularly so that we can enjoy our all-too-brief summer, but that will be possible only when there’s a vaccine, widespread immunity or an effective treatment.

If each of us routinely wears a mask when in proximity to others out in public, we’ll slow the spread of the virus, health experts tell us. At this point in the pandemic, there’s ample evidence that masks do make a difference.

While the primary driver of COVID-19 was long seen as individuals with visible symptoms (coughing and respiratory droplets are key ways the virus is spread), evidence of asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic transmission points to the importance of everyone, even those who feel fine, following proven methods of preventing transmission, a list that includes measures with which we’re now well acquainted: washing your hands, maintaining physical distancing and, a later addition, wearing face coverings when physical space isn’t possible.

The use of masks has evolved to a much more prominent spot in the battle to slow the spread of the virus, which is what’s prompted Region of Waterloo council to look at making masks mandatory.

Regional officials have neighbouring Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph to drawn on, both in crafting new rules and in determining if the results warrant taking action.

There are reasons for debating the idea of requiring masks. Aside from the issue of regulatory boundaries and overreach, there are the practicalities of enforcing such rules: it will fall to individual retailers, for instance, to ensure everyone who walks through the door is sporting a mask, a level of policing that may be onerous in some cases.

If most people in the region were already wearing masks in indoor public spaces, there would be little need for an official bylaw. And perhaps a change in the rules is just the prompt many of us need, especially as the threat is seen as receding.

A non-medical mask such as a homemade cloth covering isn’t a protection for the wearer, rather the use of such facial coverings is an additional measure you can take to protect others around you.

Wearing a non-medical mask is another way of covering your mouth and nose to prevent your respiratory droplets from contaminating others or landing on surfaces. A cloth mask or face covering can reduce the chance that others are coming into contact with your respiratory droplets, in the same way that doctors recommend you cover your cough with tissues or your sleeve.

For short periods of time when physical distancing is not possible in public settings (e.g., grocery shopping, in close settings such as public transit), wearing a non-medical mask is one way to protect those around you.

If wearing a non-medical mask makes you feel safer and stops you from touching your nose and mouth, that is also good. Remember not to touch or rub your eyes, as that is another route of infection.

Wearing a non-medical mask when in public or other settings is not a replacement for following proven measures such as hand washing and physical distancing, practices that have been part of every public pronouncement related to slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Masks are another tool at our disposal, one that’s increasingly seen as not just helpful but perhaps crucial. That’s why they’re recommended today, and might be mandatory tomorrow.

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