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OP-ED: Why should we wear a mask? Cape Breton doctor explains

['Bob Martel – Guest Shot']
Bob Martel

Given that we are nearing the one-year anniversary of the first COVID-19 case (Nov. 17), there are some who continue to ask if face masks help slow the spread of the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) that causes COVID-19.

The answer is an unequivocal YES; face masks combined with other preventive measures, such as frequent hand-washing and social distancing, help slow the spread of the virus.

These discoveries led public health groups to do an about-face on face masks in April of this year. The World Health Organization and the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now include face masks in their recommendations for slowing the spread of the virus. The CDC recommends cloth face masks for the public and not the surgical and N95 masks needed by health-care providers. The same is true for the Public Health Agency of Canada led by Dr. Theresa Tam.

So why are so many people still resistant to wearing a mask when they enter public domains? Why have governments been so reluctant to mandate what is most likely the more proven measure that can save thousands of lives? Why are some businesses in many rural communities refusing to comply with some saying it is their right to refuse? Some even claim that COVID-19 is a hoax!

What finally convinced public health officials to change their guidance in favor of masks were rising disease prevalence and a clearer understanding that both pre-symptomatic and asymptomatic transmission are possible, even common. Studies have found that viral load peaks in the days before symptoms begin and that speaking is enough to expel virus-carrying droplets.

Researchers predict that 80 per cent of the population wearing masks would do more to reduce COVID-19 spread than a strict lockdown and would save thousands of unnecessary deaths and permit our economy to function.

Face masks combined with other preventive measures, such as frequent hand-washing and social distancing, help slow the spread of the virus.

Masks should not be worn by children younger than two-years-old, anyone who has trouble breathing and anyone who is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance. Those who feel claustrophobic need to weigh the risk to themselves or others of not wearing a mask.

Then there are the libertarians who are convinced that wearing a mask limits their freedom. It is important to point out that society imposes limitations on free will when the greater good is at stake. Bicycle helmets and speed limits are two that come to mind. The defenseless elderly, the person post-organ transplant, the person who must use immunosuppressive drugs for cancer and those with compromising respiratory conditions all need the consideration of their neighbours and friends if they are to be kept safe. For them, COVID-19 can be a death sentence. Wearing a mask shows these people that we care for their well-being.

The premier of Quebec recently announced penalties for people failing to comply with mask regulations. He is running ahead of the blow given what is happening in British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and his own province.

In sharp contrast to Quebec’s Premier LeGault, Nova Scotia Minister of Health Randy Delorey told reporters this province doesn't plan to take a “strong-arm approach to enforcement.” Delorey said the directive about wearing masks is part of the public health order. He said failure to adhere to the order could result in “fines and other provisions,” but added there are no plans to enforce it.

We have reached a pivotal point where Nova Scotia will be defined as a real star coming out of this pandemic with an infection and death rate that are the envy of the world or we will drop the ball and adopt a cavalier approach based on “out of sight out of mind” thinking. We have been fortunate to date but given our demographics and our already stretched health system, the tipping point will come when the annual flu and the surge in COVID-19 converge over the next few months.

Getting your annual flu shot, wearing an appropriate mask in the appropriate way and practicing the other tenets of washing one’s hands and social distancing will reduce our communities’ viral load.

Citizens of this province need to demonstrate their resolve to be compliant with Public Health recommendations by refusing to patronize establishments who are not following the guidelines, by insisting that staff in these establishments honour both the spirit and the letter of the guidelines.

We need to continue to be “Nova Scotia Proud” to preserve our place as one of the better performers in this pandemic. We each have to do our best to wear masks in public.

Dr. Bob Martel lives in West Arichat, Richmond Co.


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