Mandatory mask orders are concerning

I can’t count the number of “What will the world look like after COVID-19” stories I’ve seen going back even to April.

Ah how naïve and optimistic we all were to think that this would be over in just a couple of weeks.  Indeed, my wife came across a 2020 planner the other day and could only laugh at the distant notion that anything could have once been planned at all this year.

Yet before contemplating that “after COVID-19” question, I’m stuck wondering whether “after” is something we’ll ever see.

No, I’m not predicting an end of the world in a literal sense, though an end of the world as we know it isn’t an unreasonable proposition.

In some ways, life has returned to an adapted version of normal, at least on the surface.  Beaches were packed last weekend and the patio business is booming.  Sure, stores are open and toilet paper remains in stock, yet at the same time, we must still contend with lines to so much as enter banks and grocery stores, not to mention masks, masks and more masks.

I have no issue if people wish to wear masks; I had to when getting my long-overdue haircut a couple of weeks ago.  I have a serious issue with governments telling people what to do, however, which is why the mandatory mask orders we’re seeing across Canada and the United States are concerning.

The City of Toronto mandated mask usage in indoor public spaces this past week.  As Canada’s largest city we can surely expect other communities to follow suit.  The entire state of Texas also received such an order this week.

If this order came in March when community spread of the novel coronavirus was first appearing in Canada and the top priority was to “flatten the curve,” it would make more sense.  But now, we’re nearly four months into the pandemic, the curve is flatter than a Prairie skyline, and government officials are urging everyone to wear masks to save ourselves and each other.

They serve more as a reminder that we’re one bad day away from the government shutting us all down once again.  And this sword of Damocles has nothing to do with public health.

It was just a few months ago that we were told not only that masks had no benefit, but that they could even be harmful for people to wear.  This transitioned into “wear a mask if it makes to feel better”, then to “you must wear a mask”.  And now we’re in the “we’ll prosecute you if you don’t” phase, which is quite a bold flip flop, even by Canadian government standards in recent months.

This reversal, combined with otherwise mobile goalposts, makes it difficult to conclude there’s even an appetite among lawmakers to return to normal rather than simply adopting the new normal.

At this rate, by the time COVID-19 rates are low enough to justify reopening everything, it will be just in time for next year’s flu season.  While flu seasons have historically not been met with business closures and mandatory mask orders, this year will undoubtedly be different.  Canadians, not to mention people in most of the western world, have proven they are okay with drastic and irreparable response measures because political leaders say so, even when measured and nuanced responses could achieve the same health benefits without the economic cost.

As I wrote about a few weeks back, the mass attendance of Black Lives Matter protests – including, in some cases, by public health officials and political leaders – without a correlating uptick in cases shatters the idea that mass gatherings are inherently a recipe for a second wave.

Critics will say that many demonstrators were wearing masks, which more than likely limited exposure.  I’d argue that proves my point better than anything, as people chose to without a legal mandate to do so.

The goal was never about obliterating coronavirus before people could sit down inside a restaurant, but rather to manage and slow the spread so people who do contract the virus are able to, in the extreme cases where necessary, access healthcare without hospitals being overburdened.

We did that.  Yet the restrictions are not just still in effect, but as the mask directive shows, expanding.

The longer temporary measures last the more people forget what life was like before them.

Photo Credit: Discover Humboldt

Andrew Lawton is a fellow at the True North Initiative and a Loonie Politics columnist.

More from Andrew Lawton.     @andrewlawton

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