The province and City of Brandon are hoping to rely on the honour system and the good will of the public, instead of enforcement and penalties, when it comes to mask use in Prairie Mountain Health.
A public health order that took effect Monday requires people to wear masks in indoor public places and at outdoor gatherings. The number of people allowed in gatherings has also been reduced to 10.
Both moves are part of efforts to curtail an outbreak of COVID-19 in the southwest corner of the province.
As of Wednesday, the province’s second-largest city, located 200 kilometres west of Winnipeg, had 120 active cases of the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.
But even before mask use was mandated, James Chambers, co-owner and general manager of Chez Angela Bakery and Café in Brandon’s downtown, said it’s something he was already seeing among his customers.
“For the most part, we’ve tried to be ahead of a lot of the regulations as they’ve come in,” he told CBC News on Wednesday, adding that around two-thirds of his customers were already wearing masks in his bakery prior to the mandate.
“We haven’t even had to remind anyone yet to put a mask on, so that’s been great in the way that that’s happened.”
Education over enforcement
On the first day of the new measures on Monday, Brandon police said four calls were received related to the new public health order. One of those was at a local restaurant, who told police a customer had become irate after being told to put on a mask.
The customer reported having a respiratory disease and was exempt from the mask mandate, the restaurant’s manager told CBC News on Tuesday.
The other call, according to Sgt. Dave Andrew, was from a person who was upset about having to wear a mask. The remaining two were tips about planned gatherings that would possibly have more than 10 people at them.
Andrew said so far, police are taking an educational approach over enforcement.
“Our priority right now is to try to educate the citizens of Brandon as best as we can, to just reinforce the importance of everyone wearing masks to not only keep themselves safe but to keep the rest of our community safe as well,” Andrew said Monday.
That approach is one Rick Chrest, Brandon’s mayor, is also banking on for the time being.
“Public education is really the approach that we’ve all wanted to take throughout this whole pandemic,” Chrest said earlier this week. He believes the majority of Brandonites will voluntarily comply with any regulation put in place.
The province’s order on mask use in Prairie Mountain Health does include a number of exemptions. A child who is under five years of age, people who can’t put on or take off a mask without help from another and those who have a medical condition — including breathing or cognitive difficulties — or a disability that prevents them from safely wearing a mask are exempt.
The province is relying on the honour system when it comes to those exemptions.
“Now is the time for compassion and understanding towards each other, especially individuals who meet the mask exemption criteria,” an emailed statement read. “Requiring a doctor’s note during a pandemic puts an unnecessary strain on our health-care system at a time when all the resources need to be available.
“Public health will continue to assess the current public health guidelines and weigh the safety of Manitobans.”
“We’re not inventing the science,” Premier Brian Pallister said Wednesday, when asked about mask use. “The science is evolving and the research that is happening is advancing our understanding of COVID.”
“The one thing we do understand is that we’re not powerless in this, unless we choose to make ourselves powerless,” he added.
Chambers also doesn’t think penalties are the way to go, for now.
“I’m not a fan of enforcement,” he said. “We are enforcing it here as a business … because we care about our staff, our customers and our community as a large. But if somebody chooses not to do it and we start issuing fines and things like that, I think we’ve missed the point.”
“I think this needs to be done from a perspective of what we should be doing, kind of like returning a shopping cart,” Chambers added.
He said he hasn’t had much push back at his business, aside from a customer recently who said they wouldn’t be back if they were forced to wear a mask inside. He said even before the mandate was put in place on Monday, the majority of people he encountered in public ere already wearing masks.
“Seeing the masks out on the community has been just further indication that, by and large, most people here are trying to do the right thing,” Chambers said.
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