By GILLIAN SLADE on November 24, 2020.
A local emergency room physician is urging Medicine Hat city council to introduce a mandatory mask bylaw.
Dr. Paul Parks, emergency physician Medicine Hat Regional Hospital and president of the section of emergency medicine Alberta Medical Association, wrote a letter to Mayor Ted Clugston and city councillors on Sunday.
“I am writing to each of you to strongly urge you to adopt a mandatory mask policy and bylaw as soon as possible,” said Parks.
He says there is a strong argument to be made that masks should have been made mandatory by the provincial government but without this, it is now up to the city.
“…squarely in your hands to decide what is safest and best for our entire community,” Parks wrote.
He says the exact science around public mask policies has been confusing and scientists are not unanimous, but “the vast majority … are clear that mandatory public mask policies, in addition to adherence to social distancing measures … will make a meaningful impact on decreasing the spread of the virus.”
Recently the results of a Danish study on the value of masks were published. There were more than 6,000 participants and over several months half wore a mask and half did not. Results showed very little difference in who ultimately tested positive for COVID.
Parks says this study is only an indication of the value of mask wearing to protect the wearer, not others around them, which is more difficult to measure.
He says an Ontario observational study comparing 34 regions that introduced mask mandates found “…such mandates were associated with 25% fewer new COVID-19 cases per week.”
Kansas also implemented a mandatory mask policy. Some counties complied while others did not.
“…the differences in the rates of transmission were striking,” said Parks. (see link to the study below)
He suggests it could be argued that mandatory use of masks would potentially make people wash their hands more often, too, and be more alert to the need for social distancing.
Dr. Bao Dang, internal medicine and respirology in Medicine Hat, sent a letter to Premier Jason Kenney last week questioning the effectiveness of masks, calling them “arbitrary gestures to give officials a false sense of control.”
Parks warns that increasing numbers of people either being admitted to hospital, or even just presenting at the ER for treatment, could overwhelm the health system. This could potentially result in people who need to be transferred to Calgary for specialized care for heart attacks or strokes, not having that option, said Parks.
On April 16 the News published a story about the capacity available in Alberta Hospitals if the model of expected COVID cases materialized.
Katherine Chubbs, chief south zone officer for Alberta Health Services at the time, said the goal was 1,500 beds across the province and almost 200 for the south zone with 60 of those at MHRH. In order to have those beds available for COVID patients elective surgeries were cancelled.
AHS south zone said on Monday there were 26 COVID patients in hospitals as follows: MHRH seven with two of them in ICU, Chinook Regional Hospital Lethbridge 15 with three of those in ICU, Big Country Hospital (Oyen) one patient and Brooks Health Centre had three.
Parks says enforcing the use of masks is for the greater good and that some people need a bylaw to be reminded. There are some who for a number of reasons are not able to wear a mask but he says if 90 per cent of people wear one, it will make a difference.