Unions lobbying to make masks mandatory for hospital visitors and transit passengers
HALIFAX -- As COVID-19 restrictions continue to be lifted across the Maritimes, two unions in Nova Scotia are calling for masks to be made mandatory.
The union representing health-care workers in the province believes masks should be worn during hospital visits, while the transit union wants masks for anyone riding the bus.
With more visitors about to be allowed into Nova Scotia hospitals next week, the province's largest union is worried about workers and patients if masks aren't worn.
"We have people every day walking around that don't have COVID symptoms but maybe have affected others," said Jason MacLean, president of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union. "So, what we need to do is protect our vulnerable in the hospitals and have everybody that comes in wearing masks."
The Nova Scotia Health Authority does have some restrictions for visitors, including mandatory screening and physical distancing, but there are no plans to make people mask up at this time.
A statement to CTV News reads, in part:
"We also know that there are people who are unable to wear masks for a variety of reasons and we do not want to discourage a patient's primary support person from visiting."
But the NSGEU says that decision is putting people at risk.
"We all know that if I wear a mask, there's less of a chance I'm going to infect you with COVID-19," MacLean said. "So, if we have people that are in an area with vulnerable people, I think it only makes sense to have them wear a mask so they don't infect others if they do in fact have COVID-19."
The same concern is also being raised by the union representing Halifax bus drivers.
Many of Ontario's largest cities, including Toronto, have already made masks mandatory for passengers.
"When you see the TTC, the biggest transit agency in Canada, mandating masks, Hamilton Transit, Ottawa, (and) Guelph have all mandated masks," said Ken Wilson, the president of the Amalgamated Transit Union local that represents Halifax Transit staff.
"This is what we need to do to keep people safe. We have flattened the curve, but a second wave is coming, and we have to educate the public and our riders that wearing a mask while using public transportation may be the way to go."
Halifax Transit buses will be able to carry more passengers as of Monday and Wilson says he would like to see them wearing masks.
Some passengers agree.
"When you're on the bus, you're all breathing the same air and it's kinda crowded," said Michael McLeod. "I think definitely you should have a mask, it should be mandatory."
Wilson says he has been told that the city was waiting for direction from public health officials, but isn't sure why.
"I believe transit has the ability to mandate that themselves, and not wait for public health to get on board," Wilson said.
McLeod thinks it's important to protect the drivers, who are "exposed to hundreds and hundreds of people very day."
Wilson also says Halifax Transit is working to install Plexiglas shields behind its drivers, which will allow them to return to full operating capacity and also return to collecting fares. He is hoping the shields will be in place by the end of July.
"If we get masks on the public to keep them safe, Plexiglas shields for operators to keep them safe, we should be able to get through this with as minimal impact as possible," Wilson said.