Mask mandates: Ottawa transit riders split

For two years, public transit was considered a high-risk space for COVID-19 and masks were mandatory, even well after the requirement dropped in the majority of other indoor settings, but Saturday, Ontario dropped that requirement.

“If you care about your health, you wear the thing; if you don’t care, you don’t wear the thing. It’s all personal preference,” Ottawa transit rider Abu Al-Faki said.

“I’m happy to be able to take it off for me personally, but if anybody wants to wear it, that’s cool with me,” he continued.

While some riders, like Al-Faki were eager to leave the mandate behind, others were more reticent.

“I’ll wear my masks anyways. I don’t trust not wearing a mask yet,” Natasha Pauze said.

Health experts say it’s time for people to make their own choices, although there are still some settings where mandating masks makes sense.

“The time is really here for people to be deciding for themselves, especially when we have such low levels of COVID now, compared to prior months,” Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases specialist, said.

“I think mandating is helpful in some very select settings, like a health-care setting where you’re working with vulnerable populations, we should be wearing masks in those settings,” he added.

The shift to public transportation is part of a trio of changes to Ontario’s handling of the pandemic that are taking place in June.

Along with lifting the mask mandate in most indoor spaces, the province will move to weekly covid reporting beginning June 16, and on June 24, the province’s vaccine passport app, Verify Ontario, will be taken offline.

“We’re expected to see a rise in cases in the fall and I think it’s just helpful to have some transparency over some of the data and the reporting,” Dr. Bogoch said.

Still, some riders are questioning the decision to remove the mask mandates, particularly for services like Para Transpo.

“You’re going into the long-term care centres, where there is still a mandate for wearing masks and you’re picking up those customers, so yeah, [the mandate] should be extended to Para Transpo customers,” John Redins, a board member for Ottawa Transit Riders said.

Redins, who is also a city council candidate, says he agrees it’s time for the mandate to lift on most public transportation, but worries about the impact it could have on those who are more vulnerable.

Others say they’ll continue to wear their mask, knowing they’re more vulnerable to the disease.

“I’m wearing it anyways because I’m too old; I’m 65, I’m fragile,” Bernard Gagnon said.

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