Time to get tough on masks

Dr. Bonnie Henry and health minister Adrian Dix have done an excellent job managing the COVID-19 pandemic crisis in B.C. so far but it’s time to stop asking nice and make wearing masks (or face shields) mandatory in all indoor public spaces and all outdoor gatherings where physical distancing is impossible.

Surely the good doctor and the NDP government are aware that many people won’t volunteer to act in the interest of public health. If they did, there would have been no need to impose fines for not wearing seat belts and no need to pass bylaws banning indoor smoking in public.

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The mandatory mask policy needs to be a public health order with enforcement at both the provincial and municipal levels. 

The province should order municipalities to immediately pass mandatory mask policies, with stiff fines to individuals and businesses for non-enforcement. The province should also provide municipalities with the financial and policy assistance to enforce the bylaw.

Municipalities should then instruct their local police forces that if they have to be called to deal with a non-compliant person making a big scene in public, members should arrest that person and charge them with reckless endangerment, disturbing the peace, uttering threats, trespassing, refusal to comply with a public health order and any other appropriate legal charge.

Just like when seatbelts were made mandatory and when smoking was banned from all indoor public spaces, the resistors talked tough but learned to do as they were told and keep their grumbling to themselves. As a result, few people are fined for non-compliance for either infraction any more.

And just like seatbelts and public smoking, people will look back in the not-too-distant future and wonder why the government took so long to impose its will and why people complained about such a small ask to keep themselves and others around them safer.

Masks aren’t perfect, of course, in the same way that seatbelts don’t guarantee that you won’t be hurt or killed in a car accident but they are simple and easy precautions to prevent worse outcomes.

Unlike wearing seatbelts and not smoking in public, a mandatory mask policy will come to an end soon, once a vaccine is readily available as early as next spring.

Henry and Dix should promote a provincial mandatory mask policy as the better alternative to another lockdown. To keep the schools and the stores and the restaurants and the bars and almost everything else open, let’s all join together and wear masks. Let’s do this properly (and limit the size and frequency of home gatherings) and we can still live our lives and see our friends and family this Christmas, instead of barricading ourselves in our homes like most of us did in March and April.

But no half measures, please, Dr. Henry and Minister Dix. 

Do the right thing and put some muscle behind it. 

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