Habits around the world have changed drastically since the start of the global pandemic. We have changed the way we interact with people; foregoing the customary handshake or hug. We have adapted socialization to include social distancing and have grown accustomed to sanitizing both our hands and surfaces frequently.
While these changes haven't been easy to implement, it's been widely understood and accepted that they are necessary steps to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
The topic of face masks, however, has been a controversial one since day one. There's no doubt that many people have made face-coverings a staple in their wardrobe, almost feeling as normal as wearing shoes. Others are adamant not to wear them.
Alberta's Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw has reiterated her recommendation of wearing a face mask when it isn't possible to distance two meters. We have heard this same message from Premier Jason Kenney, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as well as representatives from the World Health Organization.
Masks are required for airplane travel and some retailers have implemented a mandatory mask rule too.
During a press conference on Monday Premier Kenney stated that wearing a face mask when physical distancing isn't possible is our "civic duty." Calgary's Mayor Naheed Nenshi has also warned that the city could make masks mandatory in all public indoor spaces within two weeks if more Calgarians don’t take it upon themselves to wear face coverings.
Confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Cochrane have been low in comparison to our neighbours in Calgary, still, those numbers have increased over the last couple of weeks. So, could the Town of Cochrane follow suit? Mayor Jeff Genung says that there isn't a plan to do so at this time.
He says "Our approach to COVID hasn't changed, the priority will always be the health and safety of Cochrane residents. We are following AHS guidelines and that's not going to change. We're not ruling out that masks may become mandatory at some point, but for now we're leaving it up to residents and businesses."
Genung believes that by making masks mandatory many people feel that their rights are being compromised. He says "This is a very polarizing issue. Some feel that its an infringement of their rights, but at the end of the day, really we all need to be aware of the health and safety of the greater community."
There are currently four active cases of COVID-19 in the Cochrane area. Genung says that with restrictions being lifted, it's natural that we would see an increase in active cases across the board.
He says "I would say overall Cochranites have been doing an excellent job at flattening the curve and following guidelines. There was an expectation that cases would rise and that's just a natural occurrence based on the fact that the guidelines have relaxed and people are out and about more." He goes on to say "Something that Dr. Hinshaw early on said that has stuck with me is that we really need to be balancing livelihoods with lives. It's not as a tradeoff but the economy does need to be active otherwise we're going to be creating larger problems down the road."
Genung says that he is hopeful that we won't have to take face masks to the mandatory level. He says "It's never nice to have to demand that somebody do something. Instead, I really hope that people can be respectful of one another and like I've said from the very beginning - be kind, save lives. We're following that so I'm hopeful that we won't have to increase restrictions."
On Monday Health Minister Tyler Shandro announced that 20 million free non-medical masks are being distributed provincewide.
Masks are available at A&W, McDonald’s Canada, and Tim Hortons partner restaurants across the province, they have also been distributed to transit systems across Alberta, as well as living, seniors facilities, community groups, social service organizations, libraries, courthouses and places of worship.