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Mixed messages on masks, more questions on campgrounds

Last Friday, July 10, an Ormstown municipal council resolution passed earlier in the week came into effect, making the wearing of masks obligatory in indoor spaces; that is, in all the stores and commercial and public areas in the municipality’s territory. The same day, a public notice in Saint-Chrysostome announced the same thing, for businesses there. In Montreal a few days earlier, Valérie Plante had announced the city will require masks in all interior spaces, although not before July 27. Côte St-Luc already has such a bylaw and has set fines at $500 for masking infractions; however, Montreal says it will start slowly but eventually use its police force to make sure the rules are followed. So far, the only pushback is that this plan wasn’t introduced much sooner. Ottawa and indeed all of eastern Ontario have instituted full interior mask laws. One is being debated for passage in Alberta, and Toronto’s is already in force.

Within about 48 hours, Quebec’s public health director, Dr. Horacio Arruda, was also talking about possible obligatory mask requirements, without, however, putting any in place. This about-face on masks, which have been noticeably thin on the ground in May and June in most public places in our area especially, is in part a response to resurgence of the virus in the U.S., but even more so to the outbreaks that have occurred very close by in Mercier. Just a couple of parties, with young people travelling from one to another and then visiting bakeries, bars and stores around the Valley, have resulted in multiple business closures in these two towns and beyond, and in new mask requirements in others, like the Metro in Saint-Chrysostome. The wearing of masks isn’t a miracle cure, but besides reminding people the pandemic is ongoing, the now accepted theory is the virus has more limited spread if the practice is widely used. Franklin’s Mayor Douglas Brooks points out that we shouldn’t wait any longer: “I’m 100 per cent sure that my council will be passing a municipal order requiring masks in public places indoors, but I would think there’s something probably coming for the entire rest of the province. One thing’s for sure. The economic damage done to our local businesses by irresponsible people means we can’t carry on as we have been so far this summer. We need solid measures in place, that are enforced and have financial consequences.”

 

Campers cool off in one of the pools at the Lac des Pins campground in St Antoine Abbé PHOTO The Gleaner

 

However, the Quebec government’s mixed messages are still a big source of confusion. In late March, it put out a “Guide Auto-Soins” (“Covid-19 Self-Care Guide”) that assured citizens they didn’t have to wear a mask unless they were exhibiting symptoms. We now know that one major way the virus is spread is through people who carry it but do not yet have symptoms and perhaps never will; and also that it is spread by small droplets (aerosols) indoors. So this is poor advice and would have protected no one in Saint-Chrysostome. At the time, the CAQ government was criticized for not having made this guide available in English. More than three months later, last week, an English translation appeared in people’s mailboxes — with the same erroneous, out of date message about masks: Wear them only if you’re actively sick, as “wearing a mask when you have no symptoms is not recommended.” No distinctions were made between indoors and outdoors, although we know the key to mask-wearing is: indoors always; outdoors if you’re stuck in something like an ice cream line.

The crowds at the Lac des Pins complex illustrate more of this general confusion. Citizens in the area were assured by the government and by Camping Quebec that the tough protocols they had developed involving masks, social distancing, keeping pools and gathering areas closed — and especially, not shopping in local communities — would be strictly enforced. Our worried MRC mayors, after publishing their resolution asking the government not to open these crowded campgrounds, populated by hundreds, even thousands of people in close quarters, were told that not only would these difficult guidelines be followed, but also that the Sûreté du Québec would help enforce them. Lac des Pins, under pressure because of its size, even drew up its own contract and promised to evict anyone in contravention of these rules. The Gleaner published these assurances.

Now it’s a month later. Driving past the campgrounds all month, particularly Lac des Pins, it became obvious that the rules were not being followed, especially concerning masks. Mayor Brooks of Franklin says, “When our council members met July 7, we were all of same mind: we’ve seen and heard about the lineups for ice cream, pools full, no demonstration of fear of contagion, no sign of respect for the situation. We sent an email to the Lac des Pins owners to say we’re getting calls and have noticed a relaxation in the Camping Quebec rules, if there ever were any in force.” Claire IsaBelle, Huntingdon MNA from the ruling CAQ party, sent out a press release on the occasion of the campground openings, to reassure the population about the existence of all the Camping Quebec rules. Franklin’s council has written to her as well and has also contacted the SQ. Citizen complaints note that while police have been a presence at local farmers’ markets, they’ve not been seen patrolling around campgrounds that service a constant stream of hundreds of weekend visitors from Montreal and from COVID hotspots like Valleyfield and Mercier. When the municipality of Franklin tried to check on SQ activity inside the campgrounds, the sergeant in charge was on vacation. Mayor Brooks was told that the cadets who had been promised to patrol these areas would start to do so; whether or not they will enforce the rules with fines is not clear. The owners of Lac des Pins had not responded to The Gleaner’s inquiries by press time.

It’s been shown in psychological tests that if more people are wearing masks, compliance grows. Seeing masks reminds people we are still in a pandemic, and may also remind them to do social distancing and hand-washing. For that reason alone, municipalities in the MRC, like Saint-Chrysostome and Franklin, are joining Ormstown to pass resolutions about masks indoors. Unlike Montreal, they don’t have their own police forces to make sure the directives are followed; but, as it is in the interest of merchants to not find their businesses shuttered by more outbreaks, Mayor Brooks speaks for many when he says, “We are hoping everyone will get involved in this initiative to make mask-wearing the norm here, in any indoor setting, to protect our local businesses.”

 

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