When Cerasela Tofan hopped on the Metro this afternoon, she put on a blue face covering, despite no longer being required to.
As of Saturday, public transit users in Quebec no longer have to wear masks. But some Montrealers like Tofan said they’ll be masking up for the foreseeable future.
“I think it’s too early to put the mask down in a subway and in a bus,” said Tofan. “We see COVID is not finished yet.”
The province imposed a mask mandate for indoor public spaces and public transit in July of 2020 in a bid to slow the spread of COVID-19.
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In mid-May, Quebec became the last province to remove the face covering requirement for indoor public spaces, and going forward, authorities say wearing a mask will be personal choice.
That’s what makes Jim Cooper’s decision to no longer wear a mask on public transit so easy.
“The beauty of the system is that the people who are not sure or have health problems, they can keep their mask and it wouldn’t be a problem,” he said, adding that he feels safe using public transit sans mask thanks to having three doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.
‘If you can’t survive, you don’t deserve to be alive’
Masks are still mandatory in hospitals, long-term care homes and other health-care facilities, where it’s more likely that vulnerable people could potentially be exposed to COVID-19. Mental health establishments aren’t included.
But Aaron Ansuini says vulnerable people like him are everywhere, and dropping one of the last remaining health measures is like telling them that they don’t matter.
“This idea of survival of the fittest is pretty disturbing because it implies that, if you can’t survive, you don’t deserve to be alive, and that’s kind of reinforced by the conditions that we presently have,” said the young man who has Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a multi-systemic connective tissue disorder that often affects his mobility.
As an ambulatory wheelchair user, few Metro stations were accessible to Ansuini even before the pandemic. But now, he says even if he stays away from public transit, the threat of exposure to the virus follows him wherever he goes.
“Even if I’m not often on the subway or the Metro myself, those that I come in contact with often are,” he said. “So it means that any setting that I go into, I’m at higher risk because of those who’ve [potentially] been exposed.”
The Quebec government announced the plan to remove masks on public transit 10 days ago, a decision that was supported by the province’s public health officials.
In a statement on June 8, Health Minister Christian Dubé said the lifting of the measure “is an important step, which confirms the significant improvement in the epidemiological situation in recent weeks.”
While wearing a mask is no longer required, it’s still recommended for vulnerable people and older adults. Those who wish to continue masking up to protect themselves and others are encouraged to do so.
But one-way masking doesn’t offer as many protections in crowded spaces, Ansuini said.
The province ended its state of emergency in early June. It had been in place since March 13, 2020, but Quebec has kept the power to reinstate mask mandates until 2023.