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Editor's column: Whine and kvetch, but wear a mask

Richmond News editor has her say on the mandatory wearing of masks in indoor public spaces
This Richmond property manager is having a hard time answering his residents' queries regarding mask-wearing in the hallways of their condo building. Nono Shen photo

Wearing a mask is highly annoying.

If it’s not fogging up my glasses, it’s slipping up my nose, so not only can I not breathe, I can’t see either.

 The worst is when I’m at a grocery store, where I already feel like I’m behind enemy lines, trying to pack my groceries.

At the start of the pandemic, stores  didn’t let you use reusable bags. Now they do, which is great. All that plastic was certain to drown us — it still might, but that’s another column. The catch is you have to pack your bags yourself. I’m fine with that in principle, I’m just not good at it.

With fogged glasses and constantly adjusting my mask, the items pile up on the conveyer belt while the lineup of shoppers on the other side of the till impatiently watch the gong show.

More than once I’ve come home with bread squashed under the milk.

So, yes, masks are a drag.

My sister and I were talking about it back in...well, whenever it was they started encouraging us to wear one. (Time seems to have collapsed and expanded with this pandemic.)

Anyway, back then we were listing all our mask-related trials — they fog up our glasses, catch on our earrings (which are now a quaint artifact of the past), cause us to hyperventilate.

But after all the whining and kvetching, our advice to ourselves was get over it and put on a mask. It’s not that big a deal.

And it seems most people have done the same. That said, there’s always the few who rant on about how the government-can’t-tell-me-what-to-do. Frankly, if you want to take that attitude to wearing a seatbelt — whatever. But there’s no “whatever” when it comes to running a red light. It all has to do with that tricky little thing about other people being on the planet.

Actually, that goes for seatbelts as well. Your far-more-injured body will need to be dragged to a hospital where others (there’s that word again) will try to repair it.

Anyway, this is all coming to the fore since the B.C. provincial health authorities mandated masks in all indoor spaces last week.

While most stores and facilities have been requiring people wear masks for some time, the government has applied some teeth to the policy by giving police the power to charge people $230 for failing to comply.

Putting something into law certainly makes a statement. But the reality is, police are busy folks. They can’t be wandering store aisles looking for mask-less shoppers.

It’s strange the provincial government chose not to give city bylaw officers the authority to enforce the mandate — along with all the other health regulations that came into effect in August.

It seems to me bylaw officers have the training and expertise to handle exactly these kinds of situations...which brings me to security guards, store staff, condo managers, strata council members and the like. (See page 20)

If you haven’t seen the video of a customer beating on a Wal-Mart clerk in Dawson Creek after the clerk asked him to wear a mask, don’t. It’s disturbing. What we should look at, however, is whether frontline workers, often paid minimum wage, should be asked to confront customers.

It seems some stores are saying no. Even security guards, despite standing at the entrance beside a big “Masks mandatory” sign are not always tasked with enforcement.

The Richmond News contacted five large retailers to ask about enforcement. Not one got back to us. Take from that what you will, but I suspect it reflects a certain ambivalence between putting staff at risk and admitting they’re not actually enforcing the policy.

Enforcement will always be limited and often just the threat of being fined is enough. That said, handing the job over to bylaw officers to conduct the odd high-profile blitz could go a long way in not just nailing offenders, but reassuring the rest of us this policy can bite when provoked.