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Comment: Face masks make sense, so wear them

A commentary by a retired ­family doctor. Before I start, I will declare that I am in favour of wearing face masks, and I feel that it will be only a short time until the wearing of these becomes compulsory.
B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan, wearing a face mask as he cast his ballot at Luxton Hall during advance polls for the provincial election, on Monday, Oct. 19, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

A commentary by a retired ­family doctor. 

Before I start, I will declare that I am in favour of wearing face masks, and I feel that it will be only a short time until the wearing of these becomes compulsory.

I want to make clear it is my opinion that wearing face mask does little for the wearer — but significantly reduces infection risks to those around a potentially infected and not always symptomatic person.

The world is in chaos at the moment, mostly as a consequence of the COVID-19 virus. The result is that there is widespread uncertainty and anxiety, not just here in Canada, but throughout the world.

Institutions which were thought to be stables of a functioning society suddenly are not there or are disappearing rapidly. Churchgoers are deprived of their weekly worship; weddings and funeral-wakes are significantly curtailed, and many nationwide industries and retail outlets are folding.

The elephant in the bed, however, is that one of the previously major powers of the globe is in effect ungoverned, and is disseminating chaos with ­destabilizing trade wars, preposterous undemocratic executive orders and outlandish Twitter broadcasts.

People react to this in many ways which I think, in part, explains the anti-masker movements. I hear many explanations for this movement, none of which I feel are valid.

One argument is that wearing a face mask deprives the person of their civil rights. I cannot equate the wearing of a mask with the deprivation of personal freedom. Bearing in mind my first paragraph, not wearing a mask is egoistic and inconsiderate to those around the “freedom fighter.”

If a member of the anti-mask movement suddenly required surgery, how would she/he feel if the surgeon insisted on exercising his civil rights and refused to wear a face mask.

Another argument is that wearing a facemask is uncomfortable. A long time ago when I was an anaesthetist I wore a facemask for a whole working day — 10 or 12 straight hours, as did everybody else in the operating room. I never remember a single complaint about discomfort.

During the Second World War, all households in the United Kingdom had to have complete blackout overnight — absolutely no exceptions — so that foreign bombers could not accurately drop their lethal loads. Almost everybody complied for the common good. For the occasional nonconformist there were significant penalties.

I have heard it argued that there was so much conflicting advice at the beginning of the pandemic that benefits of ­wearing a face mask are uncertain.

Throughout this pandemic the prime minister, provincial premiers and, most of all, provincial public health experts have acknowledged that the situation was truly unprecedented — meaning that there is no previous experience to look back on and learn from.

So all these leaders have done an excellent job of keeping the public informed with, to my opinion, admirable transparency, so that when decisions are being made, the public can understand why.

What could be regarded as irresolution and uncertainty is, in fact, the officials’ respect for the public, who can then make informed decisions.

Our provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, has tried to avoid enforced measures with regard to compliance in controlling this dreadful virus. I suspect, however, that she will soon have to introduce compulsory use of masks in all public indoor spaces. It’s a shame but there we are.

I want to end up on a much more cheerful note.

Recently, when out for a walk, I saw a roadside stall.

On closer inspection there was a notice — FREE face masks.

There were no fewer than 50 available, in various sizes and patterns (now my wife and I have matching masks) all excellently made with a liner and good seams. Such kindness is always appreciated, but even more so in these trying times.

Thank you, kind neighbour.

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