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Letter: Masks an important tool in battling pandemic

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Dear Editor,

Kudos to Calgary and Banff councils for standing up to people like the opinion writer of the Western Wheel’s last edition who said mask rules would open the door to a Kafkaesque nightmare from which we’d never return.

I’m here to advocate for a less hyperbolic version of the future: With the recent upswing in COVID-19 cases, a mask bylaw would simply introduce a temporary safety measure to help protect people and our economy from another wave of a very serious disease.  Humans have survived pandemics before, but not by ignoring them. Nor did we continue to live in fear or lockdown forever thereafter. Used properly and alongside other precautions, masks are an easy, inexpensive and effective tool with zero downside. There’s one catch, though: They only really work if nearly everyone uses them which, as a town, we’ve proven we won’t—voluntarily.

This is thanks in part to cognitive bias. There are those of us—good people—who think they know better than modern medicine, despite it having greatly extended our lifespan. But like everyone else, these self-proclaimed experts can’t tell if they’re asymptomatic and contagious. Neither can people who equate masks with weakness or find it too annoying to cover their gorgeous lower faces. This “personal choice” to not wear a mask can suddenly have very public consequences.

Here’s the rub: Even if I personally disagreed with masks, if I trusted less-mainstream sources that say masks are useless, and if I ignored data from countries showing widespread mask use works, I would still wear one. Why? Because I’m not proud or dumb enough to think I know everything. Most of all, if it turned out those pesky pro-maskers and studies were right, then I’d have done my part to potentially save lives while sacrificing extremely little. Let’s play it safe by ensuring masks are used in indoor public places whenever reasonable, with exemptions for children, people with health issues, for people dining and working out. And let’s not become a shopping destination for Calgarians who either don’t believe COVID-19 is real or will drive 20-plus kilometres to avoid protecting others.

Premier Jason Kenney doesn’t want to mandate masks because he’s scared of the potential backlash and it seems Okotoks council might be too. Don’t be scared, Okotoks, or too proud; be safe. And even if masks don’t make a humungous difference—which they have in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Vietnam—there is no downside. You just wore a mask for a while.

Jessica Hallam