Coronavirus: Should masks be mandatory? Alberta doctors, Hinshaw weigh in

As Phase 2 of Alberta’s relaunch continues, some Edmonton physicians are calling on the government to make face masks mandatory.

Dr. Michael Sawyer, a medical oncologist, believes it’s time for masks to become the norm when people are out in public.

“I think masks would substantially help us to control the number of infections, reduce them or maybe even take it down to zero,” he said.

Sawyer cites various studies that show mask-wearing is effective in decreasing the spread of COVID-19.

“Many physicians look at this and say: ‘We cannot understand why masks are not mandatory,’” said Sawyer.

Sawyer’s sentiments are echoed in an open letter to Alberta Health officials penned by members of the medical science community.

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The letter, signed by more than 30 members as of Monday, reads in part:

“Having reviewed the literature, which is supported by the latest WHO guidance, we wanted to offer our thoughts on the issue.

“We are respectfully requesting that strong consideration be given to the recommendation of mandatory mask policies to help protect more Canadians.”

The group recommends mandatory masking (or face covering) policies in three scenarios:

  • All indoor spaces outside the home (Ex. schools, shops, etc.)
  • Crowds
  • Transit

“I think people who follow the news, who have empathy for their fellow person or are worried about passing it to a family member will look at this and say, ‘Wow, I think I should wear this cheap cloth mask,’” said Sawyer.

“Our economy cannot get back to normal function with people being nervous and concerned. If we could restore our economy and our confidence back to near normal levels for eight months with a reusable cloth mask… the phrase ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’ just does not seem to do it justice,” said Sawyer.

On Monday’s provincial update, Alberta‚Äôs chief medical officer of health said she is closely watching the development of evidence on the topic of mandatory masks.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw said it remains recommended and “prudent” to err on the side of caution and wear a mask when venturing to public spaces where you may not be able to maintain physical distancing.

“Before we made any public health measure mandatory, we would need to carefully consider the pros and cons of that and any unintended consequences,” said Hinshaw.

“Right now, we are encouraging Albertans to wear masks in public places, particularity if they are going to be in a space where there are many people together.”

Sawyer likened his calls for mandatory mask-wearing to another safety precaution: seat belts.

“I don’t think there are many people who believe wearing a seat belt does not save lives and prevent disability,” said Sawyer. “Today, kids just do up their seat belts because that’s what you are supposed to do. For a long time, the government told people it was a really good idea and eventually we made it a law.”

“Masks are the kindest thing you can do for your fellow Albertan, Canadian and human being.”

Albertans are able to pick up a mask for free through various means, such as at the drive thru at Tim Hortons, McDonald’s and A&W. They are also being distributed at select transit stations.

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