Rivers wonders why face masks are not mandatory in Ontario

Rivers 100x100By Ray Rivers

April 2, 2020





Donald Trump regularly spouts so much misinformation that the American public has almost become immune to him. But almost a hundred thousand people have signed a petition calling for Trump to end his daily COVID-19 briefings, claiming he is politicizing the crisis and using the news pressers as just another partisan political rally.

Fortunately nobody is making that kind of complaint on this side of the border. As tedious as the PM and premier’s daily briefings have become, there is usually some newsworthy item to justify pre-empting our favourite day-time TV reruns. And unlike the combative Trump, our leaders appreciate the seriousness of the situation and have been careful to play nicely with each other.

Doug Ford, whose poll numbers were in the toilet only a few months ago, has almost overcome his bully-boy countenance, dutifully earned after attacking teachers and Toronto’s city council. His fight over the carbon tax with the federal government now seems like distant history, as he regularly heaps praise on the PM and his deputy PM.

doug-ford hard face

Doug Ford is coming across as a much more focused and stronger reader.

But his populist instincts of overreaching continue to get him into trouble, as for example when he advised workers to just walk off their jobs and promised not to let anyone get evicted for not paying their rents. But his past stumbles, most recently the illegible license plates, are forgotten and forgiven as this epidemic now interminably occupies our lives.

Compared to our southern neighbours, Canada is in a better place. But our numbers are still growing and there is no end in sight. And if there is a recovery strategy it has to be a best kept secret, as new numbers roll-in every day telling us that things are only getting worse – not better.

We’ve seen how China, despite bring hampered initially by its knee jerk denials, was finally able to lock down the virus only with a dramatic quarantine, exhaustive travel restrictions, a shuttering of virtually all business and the mandatory wearing of face masks in public. We’ve also seen how South Korea is claiming limited success by aggressive testing and tracking, isolation, travel bans, and… face masks.

But Canada is not following either of these models. Our first COVID-19 case arrived from China near the end of January, yet it took another month to restrict International travel. Arriving passengers were neither tested nor quarantined until enough infected people had arrived for the virus to become a self sustaining problem.

Trudeau welcoming

It was a different time: The Prime Minister was welcoming refugees into the country almost every day.

We just kept counting the infected and dead until, by early March, we had joined the rest of the world in suffering the consequences of this deadly and growing epidemic. So we started ratcheting down our economy by a series of half measures. Mr. Trudeau announced voluntary internal travel restrictions but not a ban, and only partially closed the US border. And Mr. Ford shuttered some, but not all, non-essential Ontario business.

Our chief medical officer of health keeps telling us that all we need to do is wash our hands and keep our social distances. Social distancing is a good idea but how is that even possible for those who need to make the daily commute to their job by subway or bus, for example. So what about the masks which worked so well in Asia?

The virus is respiratory. I’m not a medical doctor but even I know that means the pathway for the infection starts with the mouth or nose and moves out by a cough, sneeze or even talking. The virus apparently lasts a relatively long time on some surfaces (counters, doors and grab rails and grocery produce) but it gets there when an infected person coughs or sneezes near or onto those surfaces – or touches them after sneezing into their own hands.

Masks - crowd wearing

Masks were essential in China – Rivers wonders why they are not essential in Ontario

April 2 2020

World wide data on the morning of April 2, 2020

So the Chinese authorities believe wearing a mask reduces the contagion. But our Dr. Tam, the World Health Organization and the US Centre for Disease Control (CDC) are still telling us not to wear a mask in public unless we are already infected and contagious. But couldn’t people be contagious and not display symptoms? And shouldn’t they stay at home if they are sick? And why do doctors and nurses wear masks?

Given the enormity of the epidemic spreading across the USA, the CDC is apparently on the cusp of recommending that everyone should start wearing a mask in public. Of course there aren’t nearly enough masks in America for all the people, so the CDC will likely offer a ‘how-to’ make and keep clean (for re-use) your very own cloth mask.

This would no doubt give Donald Trump something new to announce at one of his press availability sessions. But how will he explain why he didn’t do this sooner? Trump’s poll numbers have never been higher. This is amazing given how he has totally mismanaged the COVID-19 issue. Trump was aware of the epidemic when he banned commercial flights to China back in January.

But his administration fumbled terribly. Having decided to develop their own test kits they failed to get them done in a timely fashion. They failed to enforce social distancing. And their business as usual attitude allowed the virus to spread such that the US is now the global epicentre of the pandemic. And they don’t even have enough face masks to protect their own health care workers, let alone their population.

The US infection rate has been doubling every four days and is now 200,000 – more than twice China’s. The US chief medic has projected that the outbreak could rise to a million infections or more in that country alone. It is very likely that US deaths, already greater than those in China, could reach 100,000, even if they all start to wear masks tomorrow. That is twice as many fatalities as all those American soldiers who died in Vietnam.

Canada’s political leaders are also witnessing a rise in their approval ratings. That is a natural phenomena, particularly In the early stages of a crisis like this. We want to believe in our government and leaders in a time of uncertainty. For example, George W Bush, one of American’s worst presidents by almost any account, saw his approval rating skyrocket after 9/11 as the country looked to their president for leadership.

The approval we’re giving Mr Ford and Trudeau is unlikely to last if this epidemic continues too long or gets worse, however. And that approval will disappear if the public discovers that our governments have failed to protect us because of some kind of prejudice by our chief medical officer against wearing face masks – even if they have to be homemade ones.

Rivers hand to faceRay Rivers writes weekly on both federal and provincial politics, applying his more than 25 years as a federal bureaucrat to his thinking.  Rivers was a candidate for provincial office in Burlington where he ran against Cam Jackson in 1995, the year Mike Harris and the Common Sense Revolution swept the province. He developed the current policy process for the Ontario Liberal Party.


Background links:

Trump Petition –    Ford Overreach    Ford Risen –     Mask Use

Trump Worst Leader –    South Korea –     US Death Toll –    More Masks

Dr. Tam–    Face Masks

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17 comments to Rivers wonders why face masks are not mandatory in Ontario

  • Lisa Cooper

    This was my response to Angelo Bentivenga who posted on FB a thank you to his Ward, which was nice to see.
    I’m dropping off some surgical masks that I have purchased from Canadian tire to a Burlington nurse, can you tell what the City of Burlington is doing to re-up supplies?
    I know I can be sarcastic but I am asking because perhaps if these nurses know the City is on top of it and letting them know when supplies will be delivered it would go along way for our front line workers to feel safe.
    Also, there are a lot of people in our community that are making masks for workers, maybe the City can co-ordinate one place for them to be dropped off and that way they can be directly sent where needed. Stay safe, Stay healthy people.

  • Jonathan Baldock

    they are sold out everywhere, it would be a catch 22 if you cant even acquire one.

  • Perryb

    It seems everyone believes that face masks protect you from the virus. Maybe. But they really protect someone else from YOU. This virus is transmitted by contact, from surfaces and from someone who sneezed near you. Possibly you could breathe it in, but more likely it will be on your fingers (or the outside of your mask!) and then you touch your mouth or nose or eyes and in it comes. Thats why you wash your hands, which kills virus if you’ve picked some up.
    People in China have worn masks for years – when they are ill – to protect others.
    In any case, it’s moot. There is no supply. Ill-informed rants are not useful. Wash your hands.

    • Hans Jacobs

      There is evidence that the virus can be in the form of aerosol (instead of droplets, and more similar to cigarette smoke) so it’s best to take every precaution available and not to assume **anything**.

  • Ray Rivers

    Hi all – this just in – Canada will be there as well, soon..

    “In light of these new data, along with evidence of widespread transmission in communities across the country, CDC recommends the community use of cloth masks as an additional public health measure people can take to prevent the spread of virus to those around them,” according to the guidance, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post.


  • Alan Harrington

    It seems to me that a cloth or paper mask being worn all day will capture all these air borne viruses and store them.

    Then, unless the masks are removed, disposed of regularly and replaced – you’re just carrying a warehouse full of germs on your face.

    I am not an expert in the field – but like oil filters and coffee filters – I’m sure face masks need to be changed on occasion.

    • James Thomson

      You are absolutely correct. The medical people change their N95 masks after every patient, when there are enough masks.
      Proper guidelines for cleaning and/or disposal of masks for the public needs to be part of the recommendation to wear masks.

  • Ray Rivers

    Anne and others – thanks for your comments. I am angry too. I don’t believe that we needed to be in this situation with 10,000 cases and over 100 deaths… and more coming.

    If Dr. Tam’s advice was to continue to allow arrivals to Canada without testing, tracking and quarantine – back at the end of January when there was still not a single case of community infection by COVERT 19 – then she cannot escape some measure of responsibility for the outbreak we are witnessing.

    Advising people not to wear face coverings in public, based on some hypothetical conjecture that it might make them more susceptible, while offering absolutely no scientific evidence to support that notion, is unprofessional and given the extent of the outbreak we are experiencing irresponsible. Her advice flies in the face of the success of jurisdictions like Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan.

    The use of a face coverings is not in conflict with the social distancing or regular hand washing policies the government is advocating. It is, in fact, complementary and sensible. Failing to do all we can will only lead to a greater spread of infection and more sickness and death.

  • David

    You really have no idea how to protect yourself do you. I thought the article was about masks, and how to stop the virus from entering your system.
    About Two sentences of this entire article was taken up by a stab at understanding PPE the rest was a rant about the people you politically despise….You are doing exactly the same as the people you are complaining about.
    I have worn all types of PPE for hazardous locations, I have been interested in reading of others around the world with the same knowledge….Doctors, Professors, Engineers etc. Macgyvering existing parts to make open sourcing of ventilators and respirators.
    I have placed an order today for various readily available parts and will be hunkered down in my shop trying to design a zombie apocalypse version of something that is unavailable at the present time….The biggest problem with these designs is the legality of open sourcing something….What are you doing apart from bitching. The world just changed, you should try and help.

  • Hans Jacobs

    Re: “..the pathway for the infection starts with the mouth or nose and moves out by a cough, sneeze or even talking…” – perhaps the eyes could be a point of virus entry as well?

    Apparently the lessons learned in the 1918-19 influenza epidemic, which killed one of my grandfathers, have been forgotten: It was completely clear by late January (for anyone watching the news) that there was an extremely serious infection threatening the planet.

    The WHO failed to respond adequately and appropriately, maintaining for far too long that “it’s not a pandemic”. That may have given the impression that COVID 19 was less serious, delaying defensive action. As a result, the WHO should not have any further influence on Canadian health policies until it finds competent leadership.

    The people in control of Canada’s health care resources seemed to be “asleep at the switch” as well, waiting far too long even to order the protective gear and supplies that they are now scrambling to find. It is too little and too late. Being a resident in a long term care home is now equivalent to a probable death sentence.

    Perhaps eventually there will be a recovery, but the damage will be very long lasting.

  • Well written, Ray. In the Untied States we have an additional problem: As proven by the 2016 elections, we have a major portion of the population which is deficient in intelligence. And what they lack there is compensated for by foggy emotion. Yesterday a train engineer in San Diego derailed a train as sabotage because he is convinced the Navy hospital ship docking in California is the vanguard of a national takeover by “the government”. Today is is announced that Dr. Anthony Fauci is being given six heavily armed, round the clock bodyguards because of the large volume of death threats from people who do not like him contracting Trump.

    So, we can recommend common sense measures until the Fat Lady dies, but we need not be surprised when few people respond.

    • Phillip Wooster

      In regard to the “major portion of the population is deficient in intelligence” in the 2016 election, you must be referring to Hillary supporters since she won the popular vote? .

  • James Thomson

    This is exactly what Justice Krever and his precautionary principle warned against.
    When the data isn’t clear err on the side of caution. WHO and CDC don’t have clear data. It is all inconclusive. People might do stupid things. Masks might cause more harm if not used properly. Masks might stop transmission if used properly.
    South Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, the experts saw the same science and made a different choice.
    It is clear that masks if used properly lower the risk, otherwise doctors wouldn’t wear them. So recommend masks and teach proper usage, just like we are getting hand washing videos.
    But there are no masks to had.

  • Anne spent years working with internationally respected infection control and epidemiologist specialists. In her mind Dr. Tam is doing an excellent job and has been very specific as to why face masks being worn by everyone can worsen the situation. Perhaps River missed this or perhaps he is looking at the situation through a political lens. Ford n particular refused to allow himself to be distracted from the task at hand with his very strong statement – no politics when media tried to draw him into the carbon tax issue.

    • James Thomson

      Might worsen the situation. Very little science to back that up. There is as much science to say they might help if worn properly.
      Its all rather academic at this point as there are no masks.
      Objectively Dr Tam has done a poor job by following WHO guidelines and recommendations.
      Even WHO website says that stopping travel to/and from infected areas can stop the transmission of the virus in the early stages. WHO recommends against it for economic reasons not health reasons.

  • Stephen White

    Before you make something mandatory you first: (a) have to ensure that the public can buy the product; (b) ensure the product is widely available; and (c) ensure that everyone has equal access to obtaining it at reasonable prices.

    Given the significant shortages of medical supplies I would rather medical personnel and front-line workers have access to these critical products which should be the priority. If the remaining members of the public have the product then yes, wear it, but if not take precautions and stay at home. As for homemade face shields given the nature of this virus I doubt it would provide a lot of protection. According to the latest report the COVID-19 virus lingers for prolonged periods on surfaces and can travel as much as 27 feet through the air.