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EDITORIAL: Mandatory face coverings for high traffic tourist destinations needed

To mask, or not to mask? Local elected officials should be asking whether or not making face coverings mandatory in our communities is an extra safety measure this valley needs.

If wearing face masks has been proven to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and people are hesitant to begin to regularly wear them – for whatever reason – why are they not mandatory? 

Instead, officials appeal to our better nature and rely on education and messaging to get people to change their behaviours and do "the right thing."

That classic social contract expectation many have for themselves and their fellow citizens. But not everyone feels obliged to change their behaviour to benefit society at large. 

There seems to be three kinds of people in this situation. Those who will do what experts recommend to stay safe and save lives; those who reject the directives of any government or expert that tells them what to do; and those who are indifferent or just can't be bothered. 

If we stick with the script of highly recommended, only one of these three groups will take that action. But if elected officials take the step of requiring face coverings, and particularly for circumstances where distancing is impossible or you are indoors in a public setting, the other two groups are more likely to comply.

Not without complaint, however. But when you make it inconvenient to disregard the rules, you have a better chance of them being followed. The speed limit isn't just a suggestion after all. 

There are actually a lot of examples of rules or regulations in place to protect public safety that nobody seems to object to like they have wearing a mask. Restaurants, for example, don't have the option of how well they cook chicken before you eat it – there's a rule for that to prevent food poisoning. 

This particular debate is further complicated by the fact that there is the ability of different groups and jurisdictions to make this call. No shirt, no shoes, no mask, no service – businesses have been requiring face coverings since the economy began to reopen. 

Roam Transit took the step this week to become the first transit agency in the province to mandate face coverings on its buses.  

Face coverings are hard to get used to, but that doesn't mean it isn't possible. In fact, it is a pretty minor inconvenience to overcome if you want to. Doctors and nurses are able to manage wearing them for their entire careers. 

Our national and provincial medical officers of health seem more than a bit apprehensive at this point to take this bold step for large portions of the population. Strongly recommended is the language they use. 

But what about municipalities? Take Banff and Canmore, not just small towns with main streets – tourist destinations that have seen an influx of visitors since restrictions have begun to be lifted. 

Each visitor represents a new vector for this disease and while Albertans and Canadians have done a good job so far to reduce infection rates, this thing is far from over and we should eschew complacency. 

Since the province and valley are at this point not on lockdown, visitors are welcome here and if we want local businesses to survive 2020, they are needed as well. 

But at the very least, however, our local councils and political leaders should be carefully weighing their options.

Canmore and Banff don't have to follow along with recommendations, they could decide our unique visitor based economy needs additional measures to protect the community and make face coverings mandatory indoors like other juristictions have across Canada.