“What’s the big deal?”: Why these Torontonians will continue wearing masks—at least for now

“What’s the big deal?”: Why these Torontonians will continue wearing masks—at least for now

To mask, or not to mask? That’s the latest question occupying everyone’s pandemic-addled brains, because earlier this week, Ontario dropped the mandate for most indoor public spaces, leaving it up to individuals to decide whether they want to continue wearing face coverings. (FYI: A mask is still required on public transit and in long-term care homes and hospitals, among other places.) We hit the streets of downtown Toronto to ask folks what they really think of the new relaxed mask law. 

Aaliyah, 23, a student at Centennial College; with her grandmother, Beverley, 60, a recent retiree 

Are you glad the province is no longer requiring people to wear a mask in most public places?
Aaliyah: Honestly, it’s about time, because I know a lot of people have been complaining about it. And with the kids especially—they’re not really accustomed to having a mask on. I used to work in a daycare. It’s a struggle to tell them to keep their mask on. Even I hate wearing it, because I feel like it’s limiting my oxygen. But don’t get me wrong, there’s going to be times when I might find myself putting it on because we’ve just kind of normalized it. 

So, it sounds like you might actually have to get used to not putting it on?
Aaliyah: I think I need to get back into the custom of, like, wearing my own skin, because we’ve normalized wearing a mask to the point where some people don’t want to show their own face anymore. Even me—I kind of get nervous just revealing my face now. So, I need to build back that confidence.

How about you, Beverley?
Beverley: I don’t agree with the government lifting the mandate as of yet, because we still have cases. We need to be careful. Even though wearing a mask is uncomfortable, I will still wear one because I need to protect myself and protect my family members. You don’t know who has the virus. And I‘m susceptible. A little cough, a little cold—I’m susceptible because I had surgery last year. I need to be secure and safe.

Leslie, 59, an administrator at Ryerson University

Why did you decide to continue wearing a mask?
All universities in Ontario agreed that they would keep their mask mandates until the end of the term, so we have to wear ours in the office. 

Are you relieved they came to that agreement?
No, I wish I didn’t have to wear it in the office. But I’m still a little nervous about not wearing mine, because it’s the first day without the mandate. I expect a lot of anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers will be out like crazy. I noticed a lot of people outside are still wearing them. 

Do you support the government’s decision to lift the mandate?
I think it was too soon. They should have rolled it out more gradually.

When do you think you might feel comfortable shedding the mask altogether?
It’s a habit now, so I’m just going to wait a little bit. I’m not going to wear it as much. But perhaps if I go into a store, I’ll put it on. I’m not sure yet.

It will take time and depend on the case numbers. The numbers are still there, and we’re not even doing much testing at this point. But the hospitalization rates are very good. I want to see what happens with the new BA.2 variant and what happens now that the masks are coming off. If the numbers are still good, then that’s good. If they start going back up, then I’ll keep the mask on.

Sandra Galante, 19, a student at Ryerson University and retail worker 

How do you feel about the province dropping the mask mandate?
I’m going to keep mine on. If we’re in a public space, and it’s really crowded, it would be nice if people still wore one, just in case.

Do you usually wear one when you’re outside?
Yeah, I usually do. Especially downtown because of all the people. I have people at home that can’t get sick, and my grandparents live around the corner from me. I see them all the time. So I have to keep them safe, too. 

Do you wish the government was taking a different approach?
Even if they did, I feel like people would start to just not wear them. I work in retail, and sometimes people will walk in without a mask and ignore us when we remind them to put one on. It’s surprising to me, because it’s not that hard to wear a mask. Some people make it seem like it’s really difficult.

When do you think you might feel comfortable not donning the mask?
I feel like that’s going to be a while from now. Maybe this summer, but I don’t see that happening. I feel like I’m too used to wearing it. If I don’t wear it when I go outside, I think,  ‘Wait, I’m forgetting something.’ So, it’s just a habit now. Plus, I haven’t gotten sick at all since COVID arrived. Not even a cold.

Hayden Frew, 19, a student at Ryerson University

Did you know the province lifted the public mask mandate today?
Yeah, I was aware of that. My university wants us to still wear masks, and everyone was wearing them today. So, I’m going to keep wearing it in class. And when the school changes that policy, I might take my mask off, but only if I feel like it’s safe. If I’m in a large crowd or a 300-person lecture, I’m definitely going to keep it on.

When could you see yourself feeling comfortable enough not to wear a mask?
I have to read the situation. If I see a lot of people wearing masks, I don’t want to be the only person not wearing a mask, because I don’t want to endanger people’s safety. But for me, personally, I think I would be okay not wearing a mask in the grocery store at this point, though I still might wear one for other people’s safety.

Les, 82, a semi-retired clothing salesperson

What’s your view on dropping the mask mandate for most public places?
I think that they should’ve kept it as long as possible, because it wasn’t hurting anybody, and it may have been saving lives. If it’s not hurting anybody, what’s the big deal about wearing a mask? If you can save one life, or save somebody from even just having a runny nose—do it. Still, I’ll admit: Masks are a pain in the neck for people that wear glasses.

Aljinero Tigreros, 19, a student at Humber College 

What do you think about the province’s decision?
I feel like people who are against vaccines and masks got what they wanted. But for the people that have common sense on this planet, we should just keep doing what we’ve been doing. The virus is still around, and we should take care of ourselves, especially older people and people in poor health. I try to wear a mask anywhere I go, whether it’s work, class or a store.

Are you happy with how governments have handled the pandemic?
I was born in Spain, where there were really strict public health measures put in place early on. At one point, you’d get fined if you left your house. But people followed the rules, and the situation improved. But here, it took longer for people to even understand that there was a virus going around. And, frankly, people just didn’t listen. So, I feel like the government should have been more strict about the mandates. Because at the end of the day, it’s for our own good.

You said you saw this as a victory for people opposed to pandemic-related mandates. What do you say to folks who believe public health orders like mask mandates infringe on rights?
I feel like it’s just stupid, honestly.

When do you think you might stop putting one on?
When I see fewer cases in hospitals, or all around the world, and it feels like the pandemic’s really coming to an end, then I’ll feel comfortable not wearing a mask. And it does feel like we’re getting there, but I believe we should still wear our masks. It’s been a long two years of COVID. But, hopefully, everything ends at some point.

Chester Echalar, 24, a line cook; with Sarah Nguyen, 23, an intern

Do you think you’ll continue wearing a mask even though the province no longer requires it in most public places?
Chester: I’m probably still going to wear the mask everywhere I go, unless I’m outside. It’s been two years. I’m so used to it.

Sarah: I think I’ll still wear my mask in crowded spaces, like on public transit. But if I’m just with my friends or family, I’d take it off since they’re who I socialize with and I can trust them.

Under what circumstances do you think you might stop wearing a mask altogether?
Chester: I wouldn’t use my own money to go buy a mask. If it’s provided for me, I’ll probably still wear it. I’m comfortable not wearing it anywhere, but I’m just so used to it. That’s a part of my daily life now, you know?

Sarah: I don’t think I’d be ready until I know for sure that when I’m not wearing it, I could still be safe. That’s a very difficult question. When the rest of the world is not wearing them, I guess I would not wear them, as well. When I feel like everything is going back to normal.

Do you think the government should have kept the mask mandate?
Chester: I think they should have kept it a little while longer, just to be safe. What’s the point of just dropping it?

Has someone ever given you trouble for wearing one?
Sarah: I’ve been in public and had people tell me that COVID’s fake or that I’m a sheep, and I’m just blindly following what the government’s telling me to do. It was unprovoked. They just said it while they passed by me.

Larisa Star, 38, a childcare worker

Do you support the decision to drop the mask mandate?
Yeah, I’m actually glad that it’s becoming a personal decision at this point. I think it’s gone on for a long time, and people are very tired of the pandemic and all the lockdowns and mandates. I feel like it should come down to the person’s comfort level.

Do you plan to keep wearing one yourself?
I have been today. I think it will take a little while for me to get used to not wearing one. But yeah, I think I’ll start taking it off. I really miss seeing people’s faces and seeing people’s smiles.

Are you glad schools are no longer requiring children to wear masks?
Yeah, my kids are really happy not to be wearing masks anymore. They’re like, ‘We can stick our tongue out at people and not be covered!’ 

Christopher Sharrock, 66, a retired art school administrator

Do you agree with the decision to lift the mask mandate?
I think it’s a little bit premature, because there may well be another variant coming soon. And when I look at what’s happened in the UK, where I’m from, well, they lifted their restrictions months ago, and they’ve had a huge rise in cases. And the Minister of Health just says, ‘Well, you have to live with it.’ What he really means is people are going to have to die for it. 

So, I think there should be a little bit more caution about this. The governments were too slow to react in the first place, and now they’re too quick to get it over with. And that’s not just true of Canadian governments. It’s true of governments in lots of places.

So it’s safe to say you’ll keep your mask on when you’re out in public?
Yeah, I will continue to wear my mask whenever I feel it’s necessary, regardless of whether it’s required or not. 

When do you think you might stop putting one on?
I’m going to wait and see how things go in terms of case numbers. Maybe there’ll be another serious variant, in which case we’ll be going back to lockdowns. And I know lots of people wanted to get out of lockdowns very quickly. But the only reason we kept having lockdowns was because people weren’t observing them properly. I feel very sorry for all of the businesses that have disappeared over the past two years because of the restrictions. So I understand why people don’t want to have restrictions on their businesses, but people have died from this thing, and people will continue to die.