Mandatory face mask policy in Ottawa and other cities is 'months late': uOttawa professor

A University of Ottawa professor of law and medicine suggests a mandatory face mask policy in Ottawa and other cities across Ontario is coming "months late" during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Monday, Ottawa Medical Officer of Health Dr. Vera Etches, Eastern Ontario Medical Officer of Health Dr. Paul Roumeliotis and the other medical officers of health in eastern Ontario will announce a mandatory face mask policy covering Ottawa and eastern Ontario.

"Very late! Months late we're finally hearing government officials say Canadians should be wearing masks and would you please do so," said Dr. Amir Attaran, University of Ottawa professor on CTV News at Six.

"We're getting to that point about five months after successful countries did."

Dr. Etches has "strongly recommended" Ottawa residents wear a face mask when physical distancing is not possible since May.

The Ontario Government and Canada's chief public health officer have also recommended people wear masks while indoors.  Masks will be mandory in indoor spaces across Toronto starting July 7.

"In Hong Kong for example, it was perfectly well understood by the authorities and by people in January that masks should be worn," said Dr. Attaran.

"We're only getting to that point now and because of this failure on the part of governments to communicate clearly, truthfully, meaningfully, scientifically good information we've lost a good deal of lives."

Dr. Attaran notes Quebec and Hong Kong have roughly the same population, and while Quebec has reported over 5,000 deaths due to COVID-19, Hong Kong has reported seven deaths.

The mandatory face mask debate comes as the Ontario Government considers when to move Ontario into Stage 3 of the COVID-19 economic recovery plan. CTV News at Six anchor Stefan Keyes asked Dr. Attaran about the talk surrounding Stage 3.

"I think it's insane. I think it's utterly wrong," said Dr. Attaran Saturday evening.

"Unless we have policy where people are wearing masks when they are in public and close to others, then putting more people in the public space and closer to one another is guaranteed to be a disaster."

The Ottawa Carleton District School Board is asking parents for feedback on proposals for the new school year, including two days a week in the classroom and learning from home.

Dr. Attaran tells CTV News Ottawa he's concerned for the "coming months" when schools reopen and making sure buildings are safe for children.

"The schools will only be as safe as the communities where the schools are located," said Dr. Attaran.

"Unless we get community transmission of COVID down now over summer by using masks and all of us using them whenever we're close to anyone in public - we will not have safe schools; we will not have a safe fall; we will see a considerable second wave that is probably going to be bigger than what we dealt with in March and April."