People wear face masks as they walk along Saint-Laurent Boulevard in Montreal, Sunday, August 16, 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

COLUMN: The purpose of a non-medical mask

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, non-medical masks are becoming a more common sight

Over the past few months, non-medical masks have become a fact of life.

Customers and staff in many businesses are wearing masks, and in a growing number of places, the use of these masks is now mandated in order to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Even when masks are not required, many are now wearing face masks in stores or at events where physical distancing is not possible.

This is simply the reality of living during a global pandemic.

BC Transit requires all passengers to wear face masks. So does BC Ferries.

And a growing number of businesses are insisting their in-store customers wear masks.

READ ALSO: COVID-19: Masks now mandatory on public transit, ferries in B.C.

READ ALSO: COVID-19: Should non-medical masks be mandatory in Canada?

Walmart made headlines last month when the retailer stated it would require all customers to wear masks while in their stores.

More recently, Starbucks, the Seattle-based chain of coffee shops, has made mask-wearing mandatory.

Swedish retailer Ikea has also implemented a mask policy for its customers. The Uber ride service has a mask policy. And the list is continuing to grow.

While the Starbucks and Ikea decisions resulted in grumbling from some customers, Walmart’s mask policy has generated some outrage.

Some long-time Walmart customers have said they will no longer shop at the retailer. Others have signed an online petition, showing their disapproval with the policy.

One petition refers to “draconian regulations, reminiscent of totalitarian regimes.”

Seriously?

A policy requiring customers a piece of cloth around one’s nose and mouth doesn’t compare with the brutalities of a totalitarian dictatorship. Not even close.

READ ALSO: Obsolete COVID-19 information continues to circulate in Okanagan

Besides, those who don’t want to wear face masks have other options.

Not all businesses require masks.

And there are online shopping and delivery options for those who want them.

Customers don’t need to wear masks when ordering online. They don’t even need to wear pants.

The anti-mask segment is more prominent in the United States than in Canada, but some Canadians are strongly opposed to any directives requiring non-medical masks.

Why the outrage?

I wonder if it isn’t about the masks and the slight inconvenience of wearing them, but rather about what the masks represent.

Non-medical masks, when worn by people around town or in stores, serve as a reminder that the COVID-19 pandemic is still with us.

Since mid-March, the pandemic has affected our lives, and to date, there is no proven cure or vaccine.

While non-medical masks were not promoted at first, health officials are now recommending masks as a way to minimize the risk of transmitting the virus.

The disease showed itself late in 2019, and medical researchers are continuing to learn about this pandemic and how to control it.

In Canada, nearly seven per cent of those who have been infected have died from COVID-19 (SOURCE: Canada.ca website, Sept. 13, 2020 – 136,659 confirmed cases; 9171 deaths). Many others, while recovered, continue to have health problems as a result of this disease.

Worldwide, more than 29 million people have been infected, and around 926,000 have died.

If past epidemics and pandemics are any indication, COVID-19 could be with us for years, not just months.

Masks mean the pandemic is still with us, and the quest for a cure or vaccine continues to elude us.

Few if any want to have this constant reminder.

But ignoring COVID-19 won’t make it go away. Instead, until a cure has been found, the only way to control the spread of this pandemic is to continue to be aware and follow the protocols in place.

Non-medical masks are part of this effort. And they may also serve to remind us the pandemic is still with us.

John Arendt is the editor of the Summerland Review, a Black Press publication.

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