Understanding essential as N.L. prepares to remove mandatory masks, says psychologist

·4 min read
Masks could be no longer mandatory in Newfoundland and Labrador by the week of Aug. 9. However, not everyone may be ready to ditch their mask as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
Masks could be no longer mandatory in Newfoundland and Labrador by the week of Aug. 9. However, not everyone may be ready to ditch their mask as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

With a change to Newfoundland and Labrador's mandatory mask mandate possible in just over a week, a Corner Brook psychologist is stressing the importance of empathy and understanding as people adjust to new rules at their own pace.

During Friday's provincial COVID-19 briefing, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said the province is still targeting the week of Aug. 9 as a possible time to lift the mandatory mandate, as that would mark two weeks after the province surpassed 50 per cent of the eligible population with two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Fitzgerald said public health officials are closely watching case counts in other areas, and any changes to the mask mandate will be contingent on continued favourable epidemiology and low COVID-19 case numbers in Newfoundland and Labrador.

She said while masks wouldn't be required, they would still be recommended, particularly in indoor spaces where physical distancing may not be possible.

Fitzgerald also announced the province would move to Step 2 of its reopening plan on Sunday, more than two weeks ahead of schedule.

But while the province plans to ease restrictions and eliminate the mask requirement, some jurisdictions are doing the opposite.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended fully vaccinated Americans should go back to wearing masks in indoor public places in areas where the virus is rapidly spreading. That's a reversal of a recommendation in May that allowed Americans to stop wearing masks inside in most places.

Submitted by Laura Casey Foss
Submitted by Laura Casey Foss

Psychologist Laura Casey Foss said it's important to remember that with changing situations around the world, some people might be excited to see rules and restrictions relaxed, while others may not be ready to ditch their mask right away.

"It's really important to keep in mind that not everybody is going to have the same comfort level or the same excitement potentially as you do. Not everybody is going to have the same health status or vaccination status as you do," Casey Foss told CBC Radio's On The Go on Friday.

"I think it's important to note that we're in this together, but everybody is in a different boat. Everybody's situation is going to be different."

As rules change around COVID-19 in the province, Casey Foss said it's important to remember that people are making their way through the pandemic at different speeds and shouldn't be judged for a choice to wear a mask or not.

"It's important to set your own boundaries, determine what your comfort level is and then go from there," she said.

"People really need to consider their own comfort level. Taking into consideration their own health status, the health status of their loved ones, some people are unable to be vaccinated."

Government of Newfoundland and Labrador
Government of Newfoundland and Labrador

Fitzgerald echoed a similar idea Friday when asked about fears of judgmental behaviour toward people who still may want to wear a mask in public spaces.

"I certainly hope that that doesn't happen," she said. "I think people who may have felt a bit self-conscious in the beginning are now feeling that the mask has really helped them through this year and kept them feeling healthy."

"I really hope that people don't judge someone else for making a personal choice on how to protect themselves. That would be like judging someone for wearing a seatbelt. I don't think that would be a reasonable thing to do … so I hope we've really turned a corner on our attitudes about masks in that regard."

However, Casey Foss said many people could also be feeling anxious or experiencing a sense of confusion as restrictions ease while the pandemic continues.

"Things that were comforting to [people], social distancing, lower capacity limits, masks, if those things were comforting for the last 18 months or so and now they're not being mandated anymore, people are going to be a little bit uncomfortable with that," she said.

"We don't deal well with change, especially with unknowns being a factor in that.… We have to give this some time, I think, to give people some time to get back to people feeling comfortable."

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