The announcement from Premier King that masks would no longer be mandatory in public spaces as of noon that same day came as a shock to many Islanders. Even before the briefing was over our office began hearing from Islanders who were confused and worried. Many of these concerns came from frontline workers and parents of young children, both of whom are largely not fully vaccinated yet and who are most affected by this announcement.
The news that masks are no longer mandatory was made without clearly stating important exceptions – for example, healthcare providers, businesses who can choose to continue with their own mandate.
Clear is kind, and this sudden change by Premier King has been unclear and unkind.
Businesses had little more than an hour’s notice to properly implement the new rules, determine their new mask policies, and communicate with staff and customers. Businesses have the right to enforce policies, including wearing masks, for employee safety and protection, but many workers found out about the change from customers and clients who came into their workplaces without a mask. The level of engagement with and notice to affected businesses is unacceptable.
As we’ve seen throughout this pandemic, frontline workers are yet again being asked to take on more responsibility and stress without any added benefits or supports. Some Island workers have told us that they’ve been questioned or harassed at their place of work for simply wearing a mask to keep themselves and others safe. This is another setback for workers, who have also struggled with Government’s failure to provide legislated paid sick days and liveable increases to the minimum wage.
We are also hearing from young families, particularly families with children under 12 who are unable to get vaccinated, who are facing a lot of anxiety and stress now. Only 30% of Islanders are fully vaccinated with two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. The other Maritime provinces are keeping masks mandatory until 75% of their populations are fully vaccinated. Now, many families with young children are left feeling unsure and unsafe, and have seen their summer plans compromised.
Many Islanders are worried about new variants of concern that continue to spread around the world, even in places with higher vaccination rates than our province.
This sudden announcement has created concern and confusion. Continuing mandated masking would have maintained protection for everyone, and prevented the turmoil. As it stands now, the uneven and unclear rules leave Islanders unsure as to where and when to wear masks.
So why the rush? For a province that has done so well, and practiced a cautious approach, why has the Premier decided that we can now put away our masks and let down our guard? Who benefits from this hasty decision?
Peter Bevan-Baker, MLA
New Haven-Rocky Point
Leader of the Official Opposition