With the news Prince Edward Island is making mask wearing mandatory for all indoor public spaces beginning Friday, college and university students have already been donning protective face coverings on Island campuses.
Jose Alejandro Gonzalez, vice-president of student life at UPEI, says masks have been the norm inside campus buildings or gathering places since school resumed Sept. 8.
“Carrying a mask around is the same as carrying your wallet around,” Gonzalez said.
Some people might find masks are inconvenient, but it’s important to make the extra effort for everybody else to feel safe being on campus, he said.
Gonzalez and the student union have hosted several in-person events on campus since May. Safety regulations are strictly followed, he said.
“I always make sure students get engaged in social activities around campus, so their student life experiences here are fulfilled, but still feel safe when they participate in my events," he said. “People have been coming, wearing their masks, using hand sanitizer as provided, and staying home if they have symptoms."
Nicole Phillips, director of communications and university relations at UPEI, says the move to wearing masks on campus shifted from a mandatory measure to a strong recommendation Nov. 2, she said.
The decision was explained in a joint message by Katherine Gottschall-Pass, interim vice-president academic and research and Jackie Podger, vice-president administration and finance.
"Due to the few cases of COVID-19 on P.E.I. and how well the university community has responded to the health and safety guidelines outlined in Stage 3 of UPEI’s operational ease-back plan, UPEI will move from a mandatory measure back to a strong recommendation," read the statement.
A little over two weeks later, on Tuesday, P.E.I. Premier Dennis King and chief public health officer Dr. Heather Morrison made the opposite case, saying despite P.E.I.'s small number of cases, masks would become mandatory across the Island.
"As a country we are not yet bending the COVID-19 curve associated with the second wave of this virus and as case counts rise, health systems will become more overwhelmed. We remain fortunate in P.E.I. as we have not experienced this second wave of COVID-19 and while we are in a good position today, we know that this could change at any time," Morrison said in a media briefing Tuesday.
"I equate our current situation to anticipating a hurricane where we know the track of the storm and the details of the potential impacts. And when we know there is a hurricane heading towards P.E.I., we do everything possible to prepare ourselves, our families, our communities and our province for any potential devastation. So we need to take additional steps now to prepare for COVID-19."
Gonzalez agrees with that message.
“Although there’s no community spread, or there are only a few cases on the Island, it’s also important to take care of students and staff’s mental health while being on campus,” he said.
He acknowleges, however, that some students have become more relaxed about mask wearing over the fall months.
“Since COVID-19 hit, many people felt like they could no longer do exactly what they want the way they want to," he said. “Now, if I forgot my mask, I could still go to campus, enter different buildings, do what I’m supposed to do like studying or meeting up with people.”
It’s important people understand why P.E.I. has been doing so well compared to other provinces and other countries, he said.
“We have been following safety regulations pretty well, including wearing masks in common areas, and that’s what we should continue to do,” Gonzalez said.
At P.E.I.'s other large post-secondary education institution has also been stressing the importance of wearing a mask.
Holland College made wearing masks on campus mandatory as of Oct. 29 and has been hosting a Mask Up contest every week since Oct. 30. The contest encourages students to post an Instagram story of themselves wearing mask and tag @hollandcollege. The prize is a $50 gift card.
Kassandra-Rose Gavin-Henry, a second-year marketing student at the college, says it's important to take the safety precautions seriously.
“As students, we respond best to seeing what our peers are doing individually over an email bulletin or an infographic.”
The contest is a good reminder, she said.
“I think there is a lot of weight on students' shoulders right now to protect themselves and each other in order for us all to stay safe," she said. “It’s great to see the college involve students in generating awareness for the new safety protocols on campus."
First-year automotive technology student Ella Conway agrees.
“Wearing a mask is helpful because it’s been proven to decrease the number of airborne germs we would both be breathing in and out,” said Conway. “By having this contest, the college encourages students to wear mask to protect themselves and others."