Toronto wants to mandate masks in indoor public spaces to slow the spread of COVID-19, a measure that Mayor John Tory said should happen province-wide.
Federally, there is a strong recommendation that Canadians wear masks in indoor spaces when it’s not possible to physically distance. Canada’s new coronavirus cases have slowed to just hundreds a day in June, whereas the neighbouring U.S. reached over 40,000 new cases a day recently.
Ontario reported 157 new cases of COVID-19 Tuesday, and seven deaths. The previous day saw 257 new cases, with 175 of them coming from a farm in Windsor-Essex that employs migrant workers. Hospitalizations related to the virus are trending down.
Most cases are coming from the Greater Toronto Area.
But an infectious diseases specialist told VICE he doesn’t think it’s necessary to mandate mask-wearing in Ontario, and that the government could instead be using this “lull” in COVID-19 cases to increase public trust.
On Tuesday, Tory announced he is tabling a motion to introduce a temporary bylaw in Toronto, calling for businesses to mandate mask-wearing in their establishments. The city is already making it mandatory to wear masks on public transit, effective July 2.
If the motion passes, it will take effect July 7, Tory said, and would last for the rest of the summer.
“We will continue to do everything we can to keep this virus from spreading and to avoid a resurgence of cases like we’re seeing in other jurisdictions in North America,” he said.
“Wearing fabric masks or face coverings keep you from unknowingly spreading this COVID-19 virus and keeps the people around you from spreading it to you.”
The motion is part of a report from Dr. Eileen de Villa, the city’s medical health officer.
De Villa said the more people that wear masks, the more effective it is as a public health measure, and that places with a mandate have higher rates of compliance.
Tory said there “won’t really be an aggressive enforcement” strategy ensuring that people are compliant.
He said the measure will largely depend on public education and businesses creating policies along the lines of “no mask, no service.” The Toronto Transit Commission is handing out 1 million masks as part of its mandatory mask rule.
Tory said the mayors and regional chairs in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area are calling on the Ontario government to mandate face coverings indoors in all large municipalities.
Dr. Issac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist at University Health Network, said there’s no question that people should be wearing a mask when indoors and unable to physically distance.
“If you put on a mask, you reduce the risk of transmitting an infection to another person,” he said.
While he said he respects the mandate and will abide by it, he thinks the government could have used alternative approaches, such as the Alberta government’s decision to mass distribute masks.
So far, Alberta has handed out 14 million masks to municipalities, restaurants, seniors’ organizations, and places of worship.
In B.C., where there are now very few new cases per day, there is no mask mandate.
Bogoch said he would use the summer lull in cases to normalize wearing masks, in part by handing them out like “Halloween candy.” If Ontario communities face a second wave of cases in the fall, it may be easier to get people on board with a mask mandate, he said.
“If or when the time comes where things are not headed in the direction you’d like, and truly you believe that masks would make a meaningful impact in your community, you can enact a mandate if need be,” he said. “You never know, maybe you never need to mandate it because you have enough buy-in from the local community.”
Premier Doug Ford has rejected calls to make masks mandatory in indoor spaces, noting “we just don’t have the manpower for bylaw and police officers to be chasing people without masks.”
Bogoch said a province-wide mandate doesn’t necessarily make sense, because there are some places that have no cases or very cases of COVID-19.
He said another concern is equity, when it comes to who is penalized for not wearing a mask, and who has access to masks.
A recent report from the Canadian Civil Liberties Association found that Canadians violating physical distancing measures racked up $13 million in fines, with many tickets being issued in Quebec, Ontario, and Nova Scotia.
The report said that bylaw officers and cops racially profiled Black, and Indigenous people when handing out tickets, and targeted homeless people.
Many of the people who were ticketed for unreasonable reasons told VICE the interactions had reduced their goodwill towards public health officials.
In a statement on its website, the CCLA said it doesn’t support mandatory masks, as such a policy could be overly broad.
“New laws mandating masks are exactly the types of government action that tends to overshoot the mark, to the unreasonable and unjustified detriment of our freedoms,” the statement said.