British Columbia provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry wears a face mask as she views the Murals of Gratitude exhibition in Vancouver, on Friday, July 3, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

COLUMN: Anti-maskers’ message misses the mark

Following COVID-19 restrictions now could determine just how happy our holidays are

The timing of B.C.’s latest COVID-19 restrictions is notable from at least two angles.

Announced Nov. 19, the two-week clampdown on social gatherings, recreational travel and religious services aligns with a sharp spike in cases of the virus – Tuesday’s 941 cases is close to the total number the province recorded in the entire month of March, a month that had us looking apprehensively towards an uncertain future.

The restrictions align with something else as well: the holiday season.

The public health order is set to last until Dec. 7, though it’s been said that could be extended depending on how the case count develops. Public health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has wisely avoided lengthy, fixed or overly onerous measures, more often choosing to play things by ear as the situation continually evolves.

Between the three major COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna and the newcomer, AstraZeneca (U.K.), there is a temptation to, however unconsciously, stamp an end-date on the pandemic in our minds, to look hopefully towards the post-COVID future.

READ MORE: COVID-19: B.C. extends private gathering ban province-wide

That day will eventually come, but it’s important not to look too far ahead – in other words, not to look past the long winter we’ll first have to clear.

The Big Three drug-makers have reported COVID-19 vaccines with an efficacy of 90 to 95 per cent, and Pfizer has already requested the U.S. government to have its vaccine made available for emergency use.

But being the first vaccine producer to market is a multi-billion dollar incentive, and you can bet that the Big Three have done everything they can to make their timelines appear as short as possible.

It’s too early to speculate when an effective vaccine will be ready; better to focus on staying vigilant in the here-and-now.

Christmas comes three weeks after the tentative end date of B.C.’s current restrictions. Add to that COVID-19’s 14-day incubation period and, by my math, Dr. Henry has given us a one-week cushion to work with.

READ MORE: Latest COVID-19 restrictions starting to show results in B.C.

If we do our best to adhere to the restrictions in the final stretch towards Christmas, we stand a better chance of being able to safely visit our loved ones during the time of year that would be hardest to stay apart.

But judging by recent headlines in the local area, not all of us are on the same page. Take what happened in Kelowna earlier this week, when a pair of maskless men entered a café with a printed copy of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, before loudly decrying the violation of their rights to the café owner, who was holding her baby at the time.

Similar sentiments could be gleaned from the protest signs at an anti-mask rally in Penticton, also earlier this week.

These examples aren’t doing the province any favours in the Christmas home-stretch – and the message seems to miss the target. We don’t wear masks because we’re compelled to by the law; we do so because we feel beholden to a social contract in which we temporarily concede some small amount of our freedom of movement and congregation for the sake of others more susceptible to the virus’s ill effects.

But the majority of people are hoping for something beyond a step up from their Charter rights – they’re hoping for a Christmas with their family.

Those who don’t feel constitutionally compelled to wear a mask or adhere to other restrictions may still feel a wordless obligation to their neighbours. And if we all subscribe to that ethic, we’ll have a happier holiday.

READ MORE: 41 positive COVID-19 cases associated with the LNG Canada site outbreak in Kitimat


Brendan Shykora
Reporter, Vernon Morning Star
Email me at Brendan.Shykora@vernonmorningstar.com
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