HALIFAX -- Health officials in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island are all strongly urging Maritimers to wear a face mask in public places where physical distancing isn’t possible.

While face masks aren’t mandatory in the Maritimes, the debate around the issue appears to be heating up.

Kate Watson would like to see them become mandatory.

The Dartmouth, N.S., resident says a shopping trip to a big-box retailer turned sour over the weekend when she noticed most of the people lined up to get inside weren’t wearing masks.

“Then you get into the store and people are jostling and crowding and touching things and I got partway through the store and I literally had a panic attack and had to put down my blocks and leave the store,” said Watson.

Halifax councillor Shawn Cleary is among those calling for masks to be made mandatory.

Cleary took to his message to Twitter, urging Halifax-area residents to wear masks in public when a distance of two metres can’t be maintained.

He says he felt compelled to say something after reading that a new survey suggested nearly 40 per cent of people never wear masks.

“That is concerning to me because we have flattened the crap out of this curve,” Cleary told CTV News. “We’re good, but, as we saw, all it takes is one person to come in from the United States … and it’s back.”

However, even without an actual order, advocates say public health guidelines can be an imposition on our lives and need to be issued carefully, especially when there are only a handful of active COVID-19 cases in the region.

“The risk is so low that it seems to me to be an overreaction,” said Walter Thompson, a civil liberties lawyer in Nova Scotia. “But if there’s no virus … how can anybody be infected?”

However, Cleary points out that there may be cases of COVID-19 that have simply not been confirmed, so it’s best to err on the side of caution.

“There are still cases, just not reported cases of COVID-19 throughout the province, because we know that most people can be asymptomatic,” he said.

It’s a sentiment shared by Kate Watson, who would not only like to see masks be made mandatory, but also available for free.

“If we leave it to people to choose, a lot of people are going to choose not to, so why not just make it mandatory?”

While masks are only recommended in the Maritimes, some of Canada’s biggest cities, including Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal, have recently made them mandatory.