Wearing a mask has been one of the major tools public health experts have attributed to fighting the spread of COVID-19.
But the mandatory use of masks and other measures have also divided communities, families and friends. Families have stopped speaking to due to different views and personal choices.
“It feels like we just decided that the dynamic was over,” said Morgan Hoffarth, president of the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario. “We were going to stop all the public health measures, which I don’t think was the right decision to do all at the same time.”
The Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario has been at the forefront of fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, including battling misinformation and the importance of masking, and maintaining public health measures.
The Ford government announced March 21 it was removing or easing mask mandates in Ontario. Many have rejoiced in the newfound freedom as vaccine passports and restrictions were lifted earlier that month,
That freedom maybe short lived as positive COVID-19 cases have increased and so has the number of patients in the ICU.
“The decision was made prematurely, especially now that Ontario is battling the sixth wave of COVID-19,” Hoffarth said.
The Canada Communicable Disease Report (CCDR) shows data that masks do help slow the transmission of the COVID-19 virus in public spaces.
But for personal support worker Marsha Murray of Peel Region, wearing her mask for many hours of the day has been hard for her.
“I’m not going to lie, like I have seen COVID, I’ve had COVID, I just got over COVID,” Murray said. “For me personally, my mask was doing more harm than good.”
She said she uses full N-95 face shields and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) at work in a seniors’ home.
Murray said even though she works in health care, the masks have been as much a hindrance as they have been helpful. Even though masks help slow the spread of COVID-19, the aftermath has come with side effects.
“I was having migraine after migraine because I was in my mask for 12 hours a day at work,” she said. “I had shortness of breath and dizziness.
“In a 12-hour shift, that’s not what you need,” Murray said. “I will be the first one to tell you I am not putting on a mask and I’ve had COVID. My mom didn’t get it and she’s wearing a mask.
“To each their own. I’m not going to force my opinion on other people,” she said.
The decision to rid the mask mandate has society divided. Multiple organizations and school boards have written letters to the government requesting that the mask mandates be extended.
Humber College is planning to remove the mask mandate for the summer term, but Conestoga College and Brock University intend on keeping COVID-19 vaccination and mask mandates in place following the winter term.
Hoffarth said in a statement on the RNOA’s website that public measures were designated to save lives, particularly the most vulnerable, through virus containment.
“The government is leaving Ontarians to assess their own risks as (Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health) Dr. Kieran Moore himself said,” she said. “That suggests the province has lost interest in containing COVID-19 and has given up the fight.”
“Ontario took a staged approach previously when there were changes to restrictions, which seemed to work well,” Hoffarth said. “But this time, it feels people have decided the pandemic is over and it is not.”
Others have opted to keep their masking practices, citing it as a personal preference.
“I still keep my mask on,” said Peel Region child and youth support worker Donté Wedderburn. “Just because it’s still the beginning process of everyone removing masks and I wouldn’t say we are out of the woodwork just yet.
“There are certain places I will have my mask off and others I will have on,” he said. “Like the mall, or places where there are huge crowds of people. I will definitely keep it on.”
When working with specific individuals and it is one-on-one, Wedderburn says he might remove his mask, especially if it involves people that he knows.
Wedderburn said even though he chooses to wear his mask, he understands the exasperation and people wanting to get rid of them.
“I think it’s going to be a lot of built-up frustration mixed with excitement,” he said.
“It’s like okay, we are finally able to take our masks off in public places and suddenly, the numbers are going back up,” Wedderburn said. “You just led me to a false hope that things are getting better.”
From protests and rallies to accusations of human rights violations, people have shown their anger with the safety measures. Many cite masks have caused mental health issues, physical reactions, and changes in behaviour.
Katarina Bozic, a resource relief director for Peel Region Childcare Services, said she has noticed a change in the children’s day-to-day attitude.
“I think they are starting to have behaviours in the sense that germs are (not) good, like germaphobes. That’s where I see a lot of kids are having difficulty,” Bozic said.
“As soon as their masks are off, you can see them kind of stepping away from each other, you can see them not knowing how to fit in a circle,” she said. “If they do not have a mask or anything, they don’t feel comfortable being close to people anymore.
“It affected their mental health in the sense of how they perceived the population, how they perceived just social environments,” Bozic said.
She said kids are versatile and go with the flow, either they wear masks, or they do not. The older kids may comment but it is not to a point of “you can’t come to hang out with us,” she said.