Masks might soon become mandatory in Saskatchewan’s enclosed areas with sizeable gatherings

In Assiniboia and much of South Central Saskatchewan, we’ve been relatively lucky so far in avoiding significant breakouts of COVID-19. However, cases are growing in the province each day.

The provincial government reported 15 new cases of COVID-19 on August 1, bringing the total to 1,334 cases in Saskatchewan.

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COVID-19 hasn’t disappeared, even though most of us in the world prayed the virus would’ve vanished by mid-summer at the latest. The curve hasn’t flattened, especially for our neighbours in the United States, where cases have exploded.

We can’t afford to be lackadaisical in Canada.

Sanitizing and social distancing are essential to avoid catching or spreading the virus, but should we wear masks in Saskatchewan?

Cloth and surgical masks are uncomfortable and ridiculous looking – appearing like the facial-coverings of those cat burglars in the Flintstones, or the handkerchiefs worn by the bandits in western movies.

The federal government instituted a series of regulations on masks, first advising people not to share theirs with others. Mask’s shouldn’t obstruct anyone’s vision when they’re involved with tasks. Canadian children under the age of two shouldn’t wear masks. Note: in Saskatchewan, anyone with trouble breathing, unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove their masks without assistance, are also exempt.

Masks in Canada shouldn’t be made of plastic and other non-breathable materials, nor secured with tape and similar adhesives.

The Public Health Agency of Canada advised citizens to wear non-medical masks in their communities, even if they don’t have symptoms, because they act as additional safeguards to shield others.

“Non-medical or cloth face coverings can play an important role in situations and community settings where physical distancing is not possible or is unpredictable (such as on public transit or in grocery stores) and when the local epidemiology and rate of community transmission warrant it,” the federal agency declared.

Premier Scott Moe advised Saskatchewanians to wear masks whenever they were unable to physically distance to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

"There may be a point in time, either on a regional basis or maybe even provincewide, where we will have to go to wearing masks as a mandatory measure," Moe said during a Monday, July 27 media briefing in a Canadian Press article. "We have not made that decision as of yet.”

At this juncture, Moe avoided mask-enforcement, but in Alberta and other provinces, masks are part of some urban landscapes by law. Edmonton, Calgary, Banff and other municipalities in the Wild Rose province are requiring people to wear masks in certain public spaces, with cash fines imposed upon violators.

Whether Saskatchewan should follow Alberta’s example by forcing masks to be mandatory in assigned zones with the possibilities of facing cash fines for miscreants brings philosophical questions on individual liberties to mind – but, public health is a liberty.

The Saskatchewan Health Authority recognized the value of cloth masks, but said they weren’t PPE. According to the SHA, the most effective method of preventing COVID-19’s range is to stay home as much as possible, practise physical distancing, habitually wash hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water and cover coughs and sneezes with tissues or sleeves.

Yet, the SHA also said wearing cloth masks in public prevents respiratory droplets from contaminating others or landing on surfaces.

Mask enforcement is controversial, even if this has proven to limit COVID-19’s span.

In some countries such as Germany, people are beginning to turn against the regulations imposed by the pandemic and this has proved deadly, as COVID-19 cases have risen in a European country once deemed safe.

An estimated 17,000 people, including libertarians on the far right, along with anti-vaccination activists, marched in Berlin on August 1. The marchers protested Germany’s coronavirus regulations as recounted in a Guardian report on Saturday, demonstrating against their perceived loss of freedoms. Meanwhile, the head of German public health became frantic.

“We are in the middle of a rapidly developing pandemic,” said Dr Lothar H. Wieler, head of the Robert Koch Institute, the German federal government agency and research institute for disease control.

In an interview with the BBC on July 28, Wieler noted that Germans were becoming too negligent. He counselled Germans to start wearing their masks again, respect social distancing and follow hygiene rules, as the country recorded 3,611 new infections in a single week in July.