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Masks are another way we can each do our part

That the region has seen a large decrease in COVID-19 cases – and saw comparatively few overall – is largely due to residents taking to heart measures such as staying at home, physical distancing and hygiene protocols. Wearing a mask is just another of the inconveniences we’ve borne to date.

While we can expect some resistance – it’s natural to chafe against bureaucratic diktats – we’re unlikely to see the restrictions imposed this week as a serious curtailment of our civil liberties. Nor are masks likely to become politically-charged symbols of a partisan divide. In short, we’re not the U.S.

Still, one hopes the decision to make masks mandatory in public as of July 13 was not taken lightly, though there was little consideration given to the broader implications. The immediate crisis tends to favour a certain amount of myopia: imminent threats to our health will do that.

Masks that cover the mouth and nose have been shown to be an effective way to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. By wearing a mask in spaces such as stores, gyms and restaurants, we help keep others safe.

There are also practical reasons to impose new rules on the public in that the sooner the threat is eliminated – or lowered dramatically until a cure or vaccine is found – the sooner we can return to something resembling normalcy. The reopening of the economy will be greatly aided by the numbers remaining low.

The benefit of that is now on display in the U.S., where large outbreaks have forced some states, counties and municipalities to roll back the reopening of their economies. Divisive, hyper-partisan politics saw some areas reopen quickly with few precautions, with the ensuing spike in COVID-19 cases almost inevitable.

Masks have been mandated in some parts of the U.S., while others have fought against them. Rather than simply a tool to promote health, masks have become a symbol of libertarian struggles, of race and, most notably, of political ideology. Much has been discussed about the uniquely American culture that promotes individualism, distrust of government and freedom even from responsibility – it’s more “me” than “we.”

Here, we can look upon that and shake our heads in disbelief.

Canadians are by and large more likely to be socially minded, to support measures that help others. As such, the measures imposed to slow the spread of the virus were adopted, even if we weren’t happy to be stuck at home. There were some instances where people disregarded limits on gatherings, for instance, but not the kind of resistance regularly seen to the south.

Moreover, our stronger social safety net meant there have been fewer economic hardships here. Not, of course, that there hasn’t been pain, particularly in the case of small businesses whose fate still remains up in the air, but the worst effects of the lockdown were blunted by the kinds of government programs that wouldn’t fly in the U.S.

Even as some people return to work, support programs have been extended in recognition that the crisis isn’t over yet. The same thinking applies to this week’s regional council decision about masks: the threat is much less imminent, but we can’t assume that we’re on a one-way track to a pre-coronavirus existence.

So, yes, a mandatory mask policy may have made more sense three months ago, we can’t assume that today’s low numbers will continue to dwindle in some linear way. And there’s also the possibility of a second wave when the typical fall flu conditions return, meaning we’ll be better served if we’ve all become accustomed to measures such as wearing masks – there will be no need to explain why they’re important.

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