En­cour­age face masks, don’t leg­is­late them

Yes they save lives but leave de­ci­sion up to the in­di­vid­ual

Calgary Herald - - OPINION - CHRIS NELSON Chris Nelson is a reg­u­lar colum­nist for the Cal­gary Her­ald.

Get ready for the great mask face­off.

As though the world isn’t al­ready di­vided enough these days, we are now mov­ing to­ward yet an­other vis­ceral bat­tle­ground — whether wear­ing face masks should be manda­tory to limit the spread of in­fec­tion.

Of course, this arises out of the cur­rent COVID-19 pan­demic, but if in­deed such a mea­sure is made com­pul­sory in this par­tic­u­lar in­stance, it sub­se­quently be­comes ex­tremely tempt­ing to res­ur­rect the same stric­ture dur­ing the emer­gence of other sim­i­larly spread dis­eases, such as those sea­sonal in­fluen­zas that reg­u­larly kill hun­dreds in Canada each year.

In­evitably, given their train­ing and do-no­harm oath-tak­ing, med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als are al­ready push­ing the idea of manda­tory masks in this coun­try. How­ever, many folk re­main far from con­vinced.

These days what then usu­ally tran­spires is a rapid in­ter­net sweep look­ing for ev­i­dence to back up one of those two op­pos­ing view­points: the “masks will save mankind” diehards ver­sus the “masks are use­less and ac­tu­ally dan­ger­ous” crowd.

We weren’t al­ways this con­fronta­tional. (In the U.S., the mask is­sue is al­ready toxic. Some store­keep­ers won’t al­low mask wear­ers to even en­ter their premises, for heaven’s sake.)

Once, not that long ago, we could agree on the gen­eral facts of a sit­u­a­tion yet ar­rive at dif­fer­ent view­points. Maybe those days are gone for­ever.

Still, hope springs eter­nal. So let’s give it a whirl, just for old-time’s sake.

The wear­ing of masks in many Asian coun­tries — Ja­pan, South Korea and China — was much more com­mon even be­fore COVID-19 reared its ugly head: ear­lier virus scares al­lied to pol­lu­tion be­ing the main rea­sons. There­fore the jump to mak­ing such an ac­tion manda­tory was more a small step than some gi­ant leap.

And it worked in re­duc­ing the pan­demic’s spread. Places such as Tai­wan, Hong Kong, Sin­ga­pore and the ones just men­tioned im­posed dif­fer­ing so­cial dis­tanc­ing mea­sures, some more dra­co­nian than oth­ers. Yet they all have a much lower per capita death count than western coun­tries. One thing they have in com­mon: wear­ing face masks.

There­fore, shouldn’t we be man­dated to wear masks at all times in pub­lic here in Cal­gary? No.

Yes, it will save some lives, but then again not driv­ing our ve­hi­cles will also lower the city’s an­nual death count.

Be­cause there is such a thing as in­di­vid­ual lib­erty and that in­vari­ably comes with a cost. Per­son­ally, the in­creased chance a virus will kill me is worth the risk as op­posed to al­ways wear­ing a face mask. Oth­ers will think dif­fer­ently and choose to don one: it’s their choice and should be en­cour­aged, but not man­dated.

Look at smok­ing. Few peo­ple these days would dis­agree draw­ing smoke down into your lungs is a dan­ger­ous and po­ten­tially deadly thing to do — though the tobacco in­dus­try once spent count­less mil­lions trying to per­suade us oth­er­wise.

It’s a ma­jor con­trib­u­tor to can­cers and heart dis­ease, the two leading killers in Canada, claim­ing about 130,000 peo­ple each year.

Yet we never made smok­ing il­le­gal. In­stead, we ed­u­cated peo­ple on the dan­gers, placed re­stric­tions in cer­tain ar­eas and suc­ceeded in low­er­ing the num­ber of cit­i­zens who lit up. You’re not en­cour­aged to walk down a city street smok­ing a cig­a­rette, but it isn’t unlawful.

The same should ap­ply to mask-wear­ing. In cer­tain lo­ca­tions it could be manda­tory — vis­it­ing a con­tin­u­ing-care cen­tre, for ex­am­ple — but in oth­ers, the de­ci­sion should be left to the in­di­vid­ual.

No one is an is­land, of course. So, yes, a de­ci­sion to ex­er­cise your own free­dom could im­pact oth­ers. But the vast ma­jor­ity of peo­ple are good cit­i­zens. They have ve­hi­cles ca­pa­ble of trav­el­ling at vast speed yet don’t in­dulge them­selves on city streets. So peo­ple who feel sick will stay home or, yes, wear a mask.

So en­cour­age masks but leave com­pli­ance to the in­di­vid­ual and limit lo­ca­tions where such use is in­deed manda­tory.

What counts in life is more than the length of time lived. The joy of that jour­ney also mat­ters.

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