Doctors call for Alberta to make wearing a mask mandatory in public

A group of doctors has written an open letter to the government of Alberta asking that people be required to wear masks in all indoor spaces outside the home, in crowds, and on public transit.

“Those jurisdictions that have a high masking rate actually are able to contain things without lockdowns and that’s our biggest concern, is that we start reopening, we see a surge in cases and we are forced to go back to the strict lockdown measures that we had in March,” said Dr. Amy Tan, a family doctor with the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine.

Tan is one of the organizers of a group of doctors and scientists called Masks4Canada. 

Calgary family physician Dr. Amy Tan is one of the organizers of Masks4Canada, a group that wants mandated masks for people in all indoor spaces outside the home, in crowds, and on all public transit. (Submitted by Dr. Amy Tan)

 “Community transmission of COVID-19 is still there, the risk has not decreased,” Tan said. “So as people start interacting with each other we really want to keep people safe.”

The group wants mask policies enforced with education, not harsh penalties, and would like masks made available on transit. They’ve taken similar action in Quebec and in Ontario, where some transit agencies recently announced a mask requirement.

Late last week the province announced 60 per cent of active COVID-19 cases in the province are in people under 40.

And there are concerns some people may not be taking physical distancing rules seriously.

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw says officials are reviewing emerging evidence.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw provides a COVID-19 update on Thursday. (Art Raham/CBC)

“So right now what we’re doing is really encouraging Albertans to wear masks in public places particularly if they’re going to be in a space where there’s many people together,” she said Monday.  “[We] really encourage Albertans to go and pick up the masks that are being made available to them so that they can take this important public health measure.”

Health officials continue to recommend wearing masks whenever physical distancing isn’t possible.

“What we’re wanting to do is make sure that Albertans know what the evidence is, they know our recommendations, and they have the ability — through the provision of masks — to be able to put that into action,” Hinshaw said. “Before we’d make any kind of public health measure mandatory we’d need to carefully consider the pros and cons of that and any potential unintended consequences.”

Alberta Health says it has no plans to make masks mandatory at this time.

“Alberta has limited the spread of COVID-19 and been able to enter Stage 2 because Albertans have taken the public health guidance seriously and protected one another,”  Alberta Health spokesperson Tom McMillan said. “We have not received any evidence that Albertans as a whole are not broadly following the recommendations provided.”

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