Monday marks the last day of Manitoba’s mask mandate.
Starting Tuesday, it’ll be up to individual businesses to decide whether they require staff and/or customers to wear masks, as the province will no longer demand it.
In the wake of several other provinces making similar moves, the Retail Council of Canada’s John Graham says businesses are preparing for the significant shift after two years of COVID-19 restrictions.
“Generally speaking, what you’ll see is businesses move away from that universal requirement for customers to wear masks and more toward either encouraging or being silent on it,” Graham told 680 CJOB’s The Start.
“Maybe with the exception of pharmacies and a few independents.”
As for customers, Graham suggested it may take a while for most people to feel comfortable shedding their masks in crowded stores.
“What we saw in other provinces over the past couple of weeks is you start off with maybe 20 per cent not wearing masks, and within a couple of weeks, we see 50 per cent of customers not wearing masks.
“But you’ll still see some customers — due to their personal situations — wearing masks, and really just evolving toward whatever the individual’s situation requires.”
While masks are likely on the way out in most cases, Graham said he foresees other safety items like the plexiglass barriers you see in some stores to remain — at least for a while longer.
“I expect it to remain for some time, really in part because we don’t know what future waves may bring us,” he said.
“The overall belief of employers is they want to create a safer workplace for their employees.”
COVID-19: Two Years Later
Epidemiologist Cynthia Carr said masks have been proven to have an impact on reducing the odds of getting infected, especially as the pandemic has progressed and Manitobans have been moving toward higher-quality face coverings.
“We do know that it has been difficult to get really solid studies in the beginning of this pandemic. At the beginning many people were wearing cloth masks that had different characteristics, so it was difficult to have solid research,” Carr told The Start.
“But we do now know for sure, from some really good research that’s out there, that particularly with relation to the KN and N95 masks, people were about 80-85 per cent less likely to become infected — compared to 66 per cent less likely if you were wearing a surgical mask.
“So certainly research shows that masks have made a difference, do make a difference.”
Carr said conversations will need to be held with individuals and businesses determining when to doff the masks for good — if at all. Masks, she said, will hopefully become part of the social norm and not a hot-button issue.
“People are comfortable with this, and that’s a good thing. There are different areas of the world where masks use was already very common, so it wasn’t such a difficult transition to get people to participate in this aspect of public health.
“My hope moving forward is that it does now feel part of our social norm, and if somebody wishes to wear a mask, they wear a mask with no need for conversation with somebody else who may be of a different opinion.”
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