Editorial: Masks are valuable, but they’re only one part of the equation

The Town of Morinville reported late Sunday night that two staff members had tested positive for COVID-19. Four Winds School, which now has an outbreak of 2-4 cases, according to the GOA Covid-19 School status map, is closed until next week.

As expected, AHS is involved and working with all concerned parties.

As is also expected, comments on social media and news sites have turned to arguments about masks.

“We all should be wearing masks,” people post.

The comments are not wrong, but they are not entirely right, either.

Let us explain.

It is all too common for people to frame COVID-19 spread purely based on wearing masks or not wearing masks. The assumption, it seems, is that all would be well if we all wore masks everywhere.

A recent letter to the editor tells us the writer will take their business to St. Albert, where masks are mandated.

It is a common opinion, but one that does not consider other factors like the number of people shopping in larger centres, the proximity of other people in larger stores, the number of items handled, etc.

It doesn’t factor in people wearing masks wrong, touching them, using them multiple times without cleaning them.

It also doesn’t factor in the number of people who don’t wear them despite mandated mask bylaws. Not all stores enforce St. Albert and Edmonton’s bylaws for them.

We saw another Alberta record number of cases over the weekend with 1440 new COVID-19 cases from Friday to Sunday.

Continued high numbers and the fact some 30 per cent of transmissions are related to large gatherings led to Edmonton and Calgary now having a mandated maximum 15-person gathering. That level is recommended for the rest of us.

But with each rising number, we mostly hear and read, “We all should be wearing masks,” as if masks were the singular solution.

We seldom read about handwashing, hand sanitizing, social distancing, or roaming around big box stores for something to do because we’re bored. And we rarely read about how 20 people in a living room are perhaps not wise gatherings.

Instead, comments sections turn into the usual uncivilized brawls as the mask / no mask debaters have a go at one another.

This publication supports wearing masks as a tool to help limit the spread of COVID-19. We also endorse washing your hands regularly, as people once did without government recommendation. We also support small cohorts and limiting trips out to busy places. All of these things will limit the spread.

But from our view here in Morinville and elsewhere, too many people see masks as a bulletproof vest, the donning of which gives them the ability to stand close to other people, not follow the arrows in stores, and waltz about touching stuff hand-sanitizer free.

As of Wednesday afternoon, Sturgeon County had 30 cases, and Morinville’s active case count was 15, down from 18 the day before.

To be clear, we encourage masks, but we do not believe they are a magic cloak of invulnerability. Instead, we see them as one tool in our arsenal to prevent overcrowding our ICUs’ and preventing another economic shutdown on our main streets, either of which would be devastating to this province.

But with COVID-19 numbers spiking in the Edmonton region, the province still only asks us to wear non-medical masks in certain circumstances “voluntarily.”

If this provincial government believes masks are a panacea, they should mandate their use. Whether across the province or in areas that hit watch or enhanced status would be up to them. But it ought to be up to them instead of downloading that responsibility to municipalities, private businesses and neighbours arguing with one other on Facebook pages.

But since the province wishes to make masks voluntary, leaving local businesses and municipalities to do the mandating job for them, they should at least work harder to reach those Albertans who believe this particular virus is just another seasonal flu.

It seems that those hanging out in large flocks like sheep with no protective measures and no $#@% to give about the spread of this virus have caused a good chunk of the current spike.

It’s not the elderly guy buying carrots without a mask. Most of us are voluntarily slathering on hand sanitizer, wearing masks and keeping a hockey stick apart to protect him from us and, in a lesser way, us from him.

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