It’s tempting to change bad behaviour through mandates. The reasoning is that citizens will stop doing bad things if they are told not to.
The problem with mandates is compliance. Unlike laws, which are enacted through a democratic legislature, mandates are orders issued by public officials.
An order by If B.C.’s Provincial Health Officer to use facemasks would run into two problems. The first is political. Facemask use has, unfortunately, become politicized with those who live in a parallel world of reality thinking that COIVD-19 is a hoax and facemasks represent a threat to their liberty.
I hesitate to call these pandemic deniers right-wingers because that suggests that they occupy the political spectrum. Instead, they live in an echo chamber of the Facebook vortex; a demented vision of the world projected by the outgoing president of the U.S.
In Canada, conservatives, liberals, NDP, all agree that measures have to be taken and they vary by province, not by the colour of the politics. Quebec and Ontario have made masks mandatory but Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan are relying on moral suasion to convince their citizens to mask up to help curb the spread of COVID-19.
The second problem is that mandates can seem arbitrary and result in pig-headed defiance. Look at what happened when some of those belligerent types arrived at Mittz Kitchen in Kamloops this summer. After being told of safety protocols at the restaurant, they harassed staff, pushed owner Steve Mitton over a table, and smashed a plate of food on the floor.
I wouldn’t want masks made mandatory any more than I would want vaccinations made mandatory. Vaccinations save lives but orders to get them gets people’s backs up.
I’m not talking about measles vaccinations which everyone, with the exception of small communities, agrees to be necessary. I’m referring to vaccines being developed against COVID-19. Reluctance to get a COVID-19 vaccination has been growing.
Even with an increase in COVID-19 cases in B.C., fewer people are willing to get vaccinated than before according to a survey conducted in September. The poll found that while a large number people would get the shot as soon as it was available (46 percent) a sizable number would to take a wait-and-see approach (32 per cent). Wait and see as people die?
If masks are to be mandated as part of a program to reduce pandemic deaths, shouldn’t vaccines also be compulsory? Millions of British Columbians would be defiant if such an order were issued.
B.C.’s Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry struggles with ordering the use of masks: “Mandating masks is not something that is going to change people’s minds,” she said. More recently she has tried a different approach. Now she says that masks are, in fact mandatory: they are part of a general order:
“Some people are asking when we will see masks mandated in B.C. The answer is that they already are. The mandate to use masks appropriately is a cornerstone of businesses’ and organizations’ COVID-19 safety plans, and is embedded in our health-care facilities’ operational policies and restart protocols in other public institutions (armchairmayor.ca, November 17, 2020).”
So, masks are mandatory but not mandated. Go figure.
The real solution to make bare faces in public socially unacceptable. Nothing is stronger than shunning the lack of facemasks.
Note: the day that this column was published, facemasks were made conpulsory in BC.