New Brunswick has no plans to alter its current stance on masking amid a stark warning out of Ontario.
On Monday, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Kieran Moore, “strongly recommended” residents use masks in indoor settings.
The province’s hospitals are under increasing pressure from a “triple threat” of respiratory illnesses, made up of COVID-19, influenza and Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).
In New Brunswick, residents appear to have mixed feelings on whether masks should be mandated in light of the viruses.
“I would agree definitely (on a mandate). That’s why we’re spreading all these germs around,” a resident told Global News in Saint John.
The province dropped most COVID-19 restrictions in March, including a requirement to wear masks in most indoor public settings.
“If someone will like to wear it, that’s okay, but I do not want to, so I don’t want anyone to enforce me to do this,” a man said, standing outside the Saint John City Market.
According to a spokesperson for the Department of Health in New Brunswick, the province will stay the course on masking guidance.
“Public Health has recommended, and continues to recommend, that New Brunswickers assess their own risk levels when determining the precautions they should use in their day-to-day lives regarding COVID-19 and other seasonal viruses,” Adam Bowie said in an email.
“The department still recommends a layered approach to living with COVID: masking (while indoors in public places), staying home when you are sick, getting vaccinated when you are eligible.”
In New Brunswick, analyzing the impact of the three viruses is more difficult.
According to new statistics released in the province’s “COVIDWATCH” report, PCR confirmed COVID-19 cases have “moderately decreased” over the last month.
As for the flu, the latest report covering Oct. 16 to Oct. 29 indicated 47 new positive influenza cases, up from the 11 new cases in the previous report. Since the start of the season, two people have died.
Bowie could not provide statistics on RSV cases in the province.
“The department can confirm that RSV is a commonly occurring respiratory illness, and is not a reportable disease in New Brunswick,” he said.
“That means it is not monitored or communicated to the public in the same way a reportable disease, such as COVID-19, would be.”
Raywat Deonandan, an epidemiologist and an associate professor at the University of Ottawa, said any decision not to implement a mask mandate is due to politics rather than science.
Health-care systems across the country are not equipped to handle another surge from the three illnesses, he said.
“No province has extraordinary capacity, none, the Atlantic Provinces even less so than central provinces like Ontario, so you cannot risk the possibility of this wave affecting you. By the time you see it, it’s too late,” Deonandan told Global News on Tuesday.
The epidemiologist noted New Brunswick should expect similar impacts to Ontario, where officials have increased capacity in pediatric settings to brace for a surge in children who require care.
“It’s mystifying to me that we haven’t got the same level of urgency to save our children that we had two years and a half ago to save our elders.”
When asked about the efficacy of masks, he noted infection remains a possibility, but lack of perfection shouldn’t be a barrier when it’s still good enough.
“If enough people wear a mask enough times, with enough compliance, with enough introspection and circumspection, then that’s good enough to lower the reproduction number of whatever virus we’re talking about.”
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