People wear face masks as they wait to enter a store in Montreal, Saturday, July 18, 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. The wearing of masks or protective face coverings is now mandatory throughout the province of Quebec. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

Vancouver Island doctor urges community to endorse masks

Comox doc says all scientific evidence points towards a second wave, so take precautions now

A Comox doctor has asked town council to recommend mask use to all businesses and individuals.

Dr. Alex Nataros has sent a request for council to “adopt a voluntary motion strongly encouraging private businesses to require masks in indoor spaces and maximize ventilation, as well as maintain a voluntary customer registry at the entrance [of the] establishment.”

Nataros said he has the support of his peers regarding this request to council.

“I surveyed our Slack community of physicians and there was a fairly clear consensus that the medical community here strongly supports what I put in that email,” he said.

Nataros said all scientific evidence points towards a second wave on the horizon, and the community should take the necessary precautions now, to avoid a major spike in local cases.

RELATED: District of Tofino encourages residents to wear masks

“This is not rocket science. There hasn’t been a pandemic in history without a second wave, so we are starting at least the second wave now and we will see how many waves there are, in the coming months.”

Nataros added the recent spike in cases is understandable. As people venture back into the community, the increase in interactions will have an effect.

“That’s just human nature,” he said. “We respond, we take safety, we take cover, and then we poke our heads up to see it if it’s safe. We’ve now poked our heads up to see if it’s safe…”

He said that while new information regarding coronavirus is produced on a daily basis, there are certain simple steps that can be taken.

“We know exponentially more than we know two months ago,” he said. “We can live great, wonderful, fun lives, just by putting into place good social pressure options that recognize the main risks are closed spaces, and close, unprotected contact.”

While a voluntary motion would carry no more weight than a declaration, there are precedents of municipalities mandating mask-wearing.

On June 30, the City of Toronto passed a mandatory mask bylaw requiring residents to wear masks in all enclosed public spaces. On July 15, Ottawa passed a similar temporary bylaw.

Comox Coun. Alex Bissinger said that she supports the concept of mask-wearing in indoor spaces, but cautions that any such mandate from the town would have to be a result of working with the businesses beforehand to determine a workable arrangement.

“It would be very hard, particularly when it comes to food services,” said Bissinger. “You can’t eat a hamburger with a mask on. So how do you make a bylaw that requires masks in indoor places, but not restaurants and bars?

“It’s a tough situation. I know a lot of the businesses are just getting back at it, and I know how much a lot of the small businesses suffered. We would have to work with them on this, before ever mandating anything.”

Bissinger said through informal discussions with other councillors, she has the sense that such a motion would have more support if the direction were to come from the Province and Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.

There has also been a precedent in that regard.

Quebec made mask-wearing obligatory in all indoor public places, as of Saturday, July 18.

RELATED: Quebec becomes first province to mandate mask-wearing

Nataros said that while Dr. Henry’s guidance is important, understanding the local demographics is where a municipal government can help.

“I know Dr. Bonnie Henry has been put on a pedestal, as she should – she’s an excellent symbol, she [addresses people] with grace, appropriately, terrifically, evidence-based,” he said. “She carries the leadership, there’s no dispute about that. But she needs our communities, each one individually, to recognize its unique local context.

“What is socially acceptable here in Comox may not be socially acceptable in Vancouver. But I do think it’s socially acceptable here… for council to encourage business to strongly consider a mandatory mask mandate, as well as a voluntary registry for people who enter the establishment.”

The purpose of a registry is to accommodate contact tracing. Should a case of COVID-19 be associated with a particular business, that business – through such a registry – could reach out to any customers who may have been affected. Many businesses in Comox already have such registries in place.

“These are all easy steps that prevent us from taking draconian steps, that will, unfortunately, affect our physical and mental health,” said Nataros.

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