#onpoli newsletter: Got masks?

Podcast hosts Steve Paikin and John Michael McGrath discuss how the debate over wearing masks is playing out in two very different parts of the province
By Steve Paikin and John Michael McGrath - Published on Jul 14, 2020
This week, Steve Paikin writes to John Michael McGrath from Manitoulin Island.



Hello, #onpoli people:

Mandatory masking remains a hot-button issue, with small but vocal groups voicing their displeasure over public health requirements. This week, podcast hosts Steve Paikin and John Michael McGrath discuss how the debate is playing out in two very different parts of the province. 

Liberty, equality, and Stage 3

John Michael McGrath: I know what a fan of French history you are, Steve, so I want to make sure I wish you and our readers a happy Bastille Day. Perhaps fitting for a holiday that memorializes people being released from confinement, the provincial government is allowing (some) of Ontario to reopen (some) businesses by entering Stage 3 on Friday. Anyone who remembers the process for Stage 2 will know the next part: the GTHA and parts of the province’s southwest will have to wait a little bit longer, and then they too will be able to enjoy things like indoor dining, movie theatres, and live music. Not everything is going to be open (we’ve put the full plan online at TVO.org) but for much of the province, things are going to feel a lot closer to life before COVID-19.

Steve Paikin: Bonjour, mon ami JMM. Je vous souhaite une joyeuse fête nationale française aussi. (That's me showing off my high school French and wishing you a happy Bastille Day back atcha!) I'm writing to you this week from my little cottage on Manitoulin Island. I only mention this because I want to give you, and our readers, a sense of the state of things in a place that's very different from the provincial capital.

I'm eight hours northwest of Toronto, in the suburbs of a village of 106 people. Remote? You bet it is. Despite that fact, I've been pleasantly surprised to see an astonishingly high adherence to COVID-19 health protocols wherever I go. In Toronto, we're all well aware of the fact that many people don't mask up and even congregate by the thousands on beaches or in parks, where that is certainly not recommended. Up here, I see virtually everyone — whether they're in supermarkets, at gas stations, or even walking the streets of little villages — wearing masks. Given how sparsely populated this area is, you'd think many people might be happy to take their chances and go mask-free. Not so. It's impressive. 

Manitoulin is no Miami

John Michael: That’s great to hear. For my part, we took my kid out for her first real post-lockdown outing to a public place this weekend, and I was gratified to see that most folks on the subway here in Toronto were wearing masks and businesses seemed to be taking it all very seriously. One of the interesting stories over the last few weeks has been the spread of mask orders (passed either by public health officials or by municipal councils) across Ontario. After a quick Googling, I see that one thing Toronto and Manitoulin Island have in common is that masks are required in public spaces in both communities. Premier Doug Ford has been publicly pro-mask — both he and the government broadly have urged people to wear them but they haven’t made a province-wide order. Nevertheless, looking at the jurisdictions that have meetings planned on this, it looks like by the end of the month most Ontarians will live in a place where some kind of public mask rule is in place. I know it’s a big ol’ province and some people find it intolerable, but I’ve been gratified to see local governments respond to public pressure on this front. Especially — and there’s no getting around at least mentioning this — given the scary numbers in the U.S. right now.

Steve: Bingo. I wondered whether a very remote place such as Manitoulin Island would have more in common with places such as Florida, or Texas, or Arizona — which clearly have a “my personal freedom is more important than your silly health protocols” vibe to them. I'm delighted to see that's not the case. Despite the fact there have been only a few cases of COVID-19 here on the world's biggest freshwater island (and those were weeks ago), people seem keen to follow the health protocols and don't seem the slightest bit fussed about having to wear masks. Our public health officials say 90 per cent mask compliance is a crucial component of limiting the spread of this disease. We've clearly got that message. But apparently they still haven't been successful at conveying it in Florida, where they had a record 15,000 COVID-19 cases the other day. In one day!  We have fewer than 200 a day in Ontario, and yet Florida's population is only about one-third larger than ours. As my dad likes to say: stay positive, test negative.

John Michael: We’re obviously hoping that Ontario’s experience reopening bars and restaurants goes better than what we’ve seen in a bunch of states — and parents are still looking for clarity about whether the schools will reopen full-time in the fall. I suspect we’ll have more to discuss on that front next week. Until then, enjoy the peace and quiet up there on Manitoulin.

Just a reminder...

Want to know more? Check out the latest episode of #onpoli for more on Ontario's latest COVID-19 developments.

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