Editorial: Mask bylaw for city businesses takes time, but COVID will still be here when it passes

Council's approval Oct. 19 of a resolution to make non-medical masks mandatory in all city buildings and city-owned vehicles, including buses, is a prudent move to make, especially in light of the recent rise in cases in the province's north as a whole and in Thompson in particular. 

Some may disagree on the usefulness of masks in preventing transmission of viruses, or even the wisdom of government responses to the COVID-19 pandemic in general, but most of those people aren't in positions of responsibility with public health departments so their opinions don't count for as much as those of the people who do. If there's a chance that wearing non-medical masks reduces the chances of one person transmitting and another person contracting the novel coronavirus, it's worth the inconvenience it causes to people who would rather not wear a mask.

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Several councillors at Monday night's meeting felt that passing a resolution to require masks in city buildings and vehicles isn't going far enough and that the city should enact a bylaw to require the wearing of masks in all businesses in the city. That is also a reasonable goal. Some went even further, asking if there was any way that such a measure could be enacted faster than it would take to create and pass a bylaw, which would take two meetings of council, at least, for the required three readings.

While such a bylaw would be a welcome addition to the city's arsenal of tools with which to combat the spread of COVID-19, some of the suggested methods by which to achieve the same goal through different means, like asking chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin to issue a public health order requiring the wearing of masks in all indoor places in Thompson, may be unlikely to have much of an effect. Such orders are usually put forth on the basis of data and, given what we have seen so far in other parts of the province, Thompson is, at this point, likely far below the established threshold for such a decision to be made. What's more, a large percentage of businesses in the city already require or encourage the wearing of masks by customers and/or staff. Waiting until a bylaw can be passed through normal procedures will not prevent any business owner from deciding earlier that masks should be mandatory and, as Roussin has said many times, people do not need an order to begin taking steps to protect themselves and others from the coronavirus. So while there certainly isn't any reason for council to delay in drafting and passing a mandatory mask bylaw, the last seven-plus months since Manitoba's first positive test for COVID-19 have shown us that things are likely to get worse, at least temporarily, before they get better on a more permanent basis. And if a bylaw requiring masks indoors, at this point still hypothetical, is essentially unnecessary by the time it goes into force, it means any local businesses that have not yet put policies in place requiring masks will have done so of their own accord, which would still be a win for public health.

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