By Lina Katrin
Since the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, people have been debating over masks: should one wear them or not? How effective are they in preventing the spread of the virus? While some have very strong opinions regarding mask-wearing, others are still not sure what to do. Across ethnic media sources, there is a lot of commentary regarding the issue.
Amandeep Benipal, the host of the Punjabi radio show Morning Awaz with Aman Deep on CIAO 530 AM from Toronto, believes that people should wear masks because safety should be the main concern for Canadians as a high number of cases are being reported from across the border. Even though newly confirmed coronavirus cases in Canada remain in steady decline, the number of infected people is spiking in the U.S., according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. On the show, Benipal asks Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier Doug Ford to make a careful decision about reopening the Canada-U.S. border for public travel.
According to a Spanish talk show on CIRV FM 88.9 from Toronto, a study in Ontario showed that without the isolation measures, the death rate from the virus would have been much higher. Toronto’s City Council made masks mandatory in indoor public settings as of July 7, and masks are expected to be compulsory in Mississauga, Brampton, Durham, Niagara Region, and in many other municipalities in coming days. The talk show host Fabian Merlo said that initially wearing a mask bothered him but he is getting used to it, as it’s “a good thing to take care of each other.”
Now, will the mandate of mask-wearing change the behavior of those who have been against face coverings throughout the whole pandemic? Even though not wearing a mask is now a subject to a $195 fine, some people don’t like being told what to do. On OMNI TV: Focus Punjabi, a Punjabi TV program from Toronto, people on the street were asked about the mandatory mask order. While one man said that wearing a mask is a “good idea” to protect others, one woman believes people shouldn’t be forced to wear masks at all.
Americans reported being more likely to wear masks in public than Canadians.
American mask-wearing rate is currently at 71 percent compared to the Canadian 58 percent.
However, it is not surprising that some Canadians are unsure if there are any benefits to masks because of how the Canadian government handled the issue at the beginning of the pandemic. In the early stages of the outbreak, the federal government claimed that masks had little effect in terms of curbing the spread of the virus. Canada's Chief Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam had said in March that putting a mask on an asymptomatic person was not beneficial. Only at the end of May she finally changed her position and officially said that everyone should wear masks as an added layer of protection.
Dushi.ca, a Chinese web source from Markham, reports that mask-wearing appears to be a “simple issue” but since the Canadian government initially did not recommend wearing masks, a lot of non-Chinese Canadians were also against using face coverings. The source says that the Confederation of Toronto Chinese Canadian Organizations had been calling on people to wear masks and self-isolate since mid-March, and the Confederation's recommendation to the government regarding mask-wearing played a positive role. To support the government's pandemic prevention efforts, the Confederation will continue to donate protective supplies to nursing homes as well as to communities.
According to the Chinese web source Sing Tao Calgary, the Alberta government is set to resume its public face mask distribution program on July 13. This is the second phase of the province's public face mask distribution program that will distribute 20 million face masks. The phase-one program distributed the same amount of masks from June 8 to June 22.
Since many people have easy access to face coverings, Dushi.ca reports that Richard Powers, a business professor at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management, said there's nothing wrong with businesses refusing service to customers not wearing masks. He believes that the safety of retail workers and employees exceeds the customers' right to not wear masks.
Canadian Tamil Radio, a Tamil source from Toronto, discusses how recommendations on non-medical masks have been confusing for many in Canada. Still, there is visible progress: a new online poll suggests that a bit more than half of Canadians support the mandate of face coverings. According to the survey, the majority of Canadians said they feel that people should wear protective masks when out in public or confined areas such as grocery stores, shopping malls, or public transit.
Dushi.ca believes that with the summer, the debate over masks in Canada is finally coming to an end. However, it is crucial to analyze the stem of the debate, which roots from the difference in the attitude of various cultures to face coverings.
Van People, a Chinese web source form Vancouver, reported in March that even when Canada's Chief Public Health Officer said it was unnecessary to wear masks, Chinese-Canadians chose to do so anyway. Still, Chinese people worried about being discriminated against for protecting themselves.
Similarly, 51.ca, a Chinese web source from Toronto, around the same time highlighted various comments under mask-related forums. One Internet user, Hongyuwu, wrote that if people continue to get “brainwashed” into thinking that the coronavirus is just a bad flu and don’t wear masks, “they would find out how painful it is once they get infected.”
BBC reports that in East Asia, many people are used to wearing masks when they are sick or when it's hay fever season, because it's considered impolite to be sneezing or coughing openly. The article identifies the key difference between the Asian and Western societies — many parts of Asia have experienced contagion before, “and the memories are still fresh and painful.” That is probably one of the main reasons why many Asian people have embraced face coverings since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, while a lot of Westerners have shunned them.
According to Sciencenorway, in Japanese everyday life, wearing a face mask is associated with taking responsibility for your own and your family's health, and also for the financial situation of the company a person is working for and the nation's economy.
Alternatively, in many European countries, garments that cover the face are banned in schools and public institutions for security reasons. Sciencenorway reports that scientists have conducted a study on why many people in the USA are against wearing masks. Even though a large majority of the informants believed they could protect themselves and others by wearing a mask, they were still not willing to use one. The barriers included everything from others not being able to read their facial expressions to the risk that they could be suspected of planning a crime. The masks were also perceived as unattractive in appearance and uncomfortable to wear.
Such research points to the fact that people in Western societies are more likely to put their comfort above the safety guidelines due to the lack of personal experiences with health crises.
Even before the global coronavirus pandemic, people across the world have been wearing masks to protect themselves from pollution, sun exposure, and viruses. Yet with almost six months into living in the “new normal,” many Canadians are still arguing over the importance of face coverings. People of various cultural backgrounds wear masks mainly to protect each other and help slow down the spread of the virus, but at the end of the day, it is your choice whether to cover your face or not. It is important to stay open-minded, educate yourself on such prominent issues, and follow the safety guidelines to ensure protection for yourself and others.