Opinion: More white people in Burnaby need to wear masks

Chris Campbell

I know the eye test isn’t as reliable as hard data, but there is no hard data that I have seen about who is wearing face masks during the COVID-19 pandemic and so I’m reporting what I’ve seen with my own two eyes.

As more and more jurisdictions in the U.S. and Canada are making wearing a mask mandatory – the city of Ottawa being the latest – I’ve been frustrated by how few people I’ve seen wearing one in Burnaby.

From the streets to stores to shopping malls, I’ve noticed a small percentage of people bothering to wear a mask. This despite Canada’s top health official, Dr. Theresa Tam, urging people to take advantage of them.

“Masks are an extra layer of protection alongside other COVID-19 prevention measures like physical distancing, frequent handwashing, staying home when you are sick,” Tam said in a recent statement. “Wear a mask in places where physical distancing is not possible or where you are not certain you will be able to keep two metres apart from others. Wearing a cloth mask or face covering reduces the chance that others will come into contact with your respiratory droplets. Whenever you go out, always have a mask with you in case you need it in a closed space or crowded place.”

This message has been repeated over and over again by top health officials, but far too many are ignoring it.

And by “too many” I mostly mean white people.

My eye test says that a low percentage of white people in Burnaby are not bothering to wear a mask while in indoor public places. Now I know I’ll get a lot of hot-take responses from people so let me state here that I’m not saying “all” white people are not wearing masks (I’m white and I wear one always) and I’m not saying all members of racialized communities are wearing masks.

But go to any Burnaby mall or indoor public space and you’ll see it's mostly white people not wearing masks compared to, for example, members of our Asian communities.

Watch the “anti-mask protests” recently in Vancouver and on TV from the U.S. – it’s all white people getting downright angry about being told to wear a mask. And we’ve all seen those videos of white people freaking out in businesses that tell you to wear a mask.

Some people who wear masks report getting weird looks – yeah, I’ve seen those looks at me – or are victims of actual bullying.

“Shout out to the big, ‘brave tough guy’ who decided to box me in w/ his pickup truck at the cart return of Walmart to berate me because he thinks me wearing a mask is stupid,” wrote @nokihu in a tweet.

Some of the responses are downright racist, as reported by Burnaby resident Emmeline Chang in a letter to me.

“In many Asian countries, mask-wearing is common practice,” Chang said. “People wear it because of air pollution or for other health reasons - this does not mean they are ill with something.It may be debatable whether wearing a mask protects the person wearing it, but wearing a mask has been shown to protect others and prevent the spread of infection. Since people can be asymptomatic while they have COVID-19, we should assume everyone can be infectious.Don’t we all want to reduce the chance of getting COVID-19 and see it disappear? If yes, why are Asians being harassed, discriminated against, and hurt for wearing a mask to prevent the spread of it and flatten the curve? That is racism.”

I get that wearing a mask is not a “common practice” with white people. I also get that it’s uncomfortable wearing one. But you’re not a health professional and you don’t have to wear one for multiple hours each day, just if you’re going shopping or out to eat or some other activity. It’s usually just a few minutes at a time. I’m sure you can handle this.

But as more and more things reopen, wearing a mask along with washing your hands and other safety measures are part of a package that will help prevent a wave of new cases.

It’s science, not a conspiracy to make you look less “manly.”

If you do read this and are inspired to wear a mask, please make sure to do so properly.

“Make sure your mask is well-fitted over your nose, mouth and chin, and that it is secured to your head with ties or ear loops so that you do not have to adjust frequently,” says Dr. Tam. “Try not to touch the mask or your face while wearing the mask, as this is another route of infection. Some people may not realize that masks can become contaminated on the outside. Wash your hands before and after putting on and taking off your mask using soap and water or a Health Canada-approved hand sanitizer. Only you should wear your mask - please do not share it with others.”

Follow Chris Campbell on Twitter @shinebox44.

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