Editorials

Moving away from mask mandates

The government yesterday announced that as of October 1, masking requirements will be further eased in the country.

“Members of the public will not be required to wear a mask in most settings,” said a statement by the Ministry of Health.

The statement went on to note that masks will continue to be required for everyone accessing a healthcare facility; any indoor classroom setting except for those being home schooled and any non-resident worker of a long-term care residential facility.

Aside from the classroom mandate remaining in place, many people welcomed the news.

There have been many feats of incredible public patience in the face of so many unknowns regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.

Surely among the most astounding has been tolerance for the mask mandate that has long outlived its usefulness.

When the mask mandate was introduced, schools, churches and most businesses were shuttered, public events were banned and lockdowns and curfews were still in place.

There were no effective vaccines and the propensity for the virus to mutate into different variants was not clearly understood.

Failure to wear a mask, even outdoors, could result in arrest and fines, which was always a draconian and heavy-hand overreach by the government.

However, in the absence of data about how the spread of the novel coronavirus worked, masks were not an undue burden for society to bear for a while.

We have since found out that most face coverings that were not respirators were useless in stopping the spread of COVID-19.

And we have found that children are much less likely to contract and spread COVID-19.

Masking did not prevent the Delta or Omicron waves and there has been no evidence presented to suggest it ended them, though there is still the consideration that the unvaccinated elderly and immunocompromised can benefit from proper voluntary masking.

For months, the public has played the mask requirements fast and loose, with the strictest adherents appearing to be large businesses, churches, healthcare facilities and schools.

Mask adherence is a thing of the past at hotels and among the vast majority of public officials at their events.

The United States of America, from where the vast majority of our visitors come, no longer has even a single state that mandates mask wearing.

For too long, the government has left certain health regulations in place without explaining what science undergirds them.

When asked about the mask mandate at the end of July, Prime Minister Philip Davis said he needed to have at least 70 percent of the population vaccinated before lifting it.

Minister of Health Dr. Darville also said around the same time that if more people got vaccinated, that would drive consideration of lifting the mandate.

“If we reach 70 percent, begin to see the downward trend, and we begin to see what we are seeing now in our hospital system where we have more people in hospital with COVID than in hospital suffering from COVID, then our EOC (emergency operations committee) will work very closely with our advisors and, hopefully, with the grace of God, we will be able to reduce or even remove the mask mandate,” he said.

At the time, Darville said that around 56 percent of the population was vaccinated.

As of July 30, 2022, 170,097 people were fully vaccinated in the country, according to the Government of The Bahamas Vaccine Tracker.

As of September 17, 2022, 172,315 were fully vaccinated in the country.

It is clear that with an extra 2,218 vaccinations, the 70 percent threshold has not been met.

Therefore, we are at a loss to understand why the vaccination rate was tied to the easing of mask restrictions when it clearly played no role in the government’s latest decision.

Health officials have not held a press conference in some time to explain to the public the state of COVID-19 in the country.

What we glean from the daily dashboard is that transmission is low, hospitalizations are low and deaths are rare.

What we do not understand is why masks should continue to be worn in schools without detailing how school-aged children have fared in relation to COVID-19.

We also have no update on how many school-age children have been vaccinated or the status of the government’s booster program as a possible winter surge in COVID-19 approaches and vaccine effective wanes.

It seems apparent that community spread of COVID-19 is no longer occurring.

But it is important that the government explain what measures to boost healthcare resources and access to treatments are being put in place as we continue to learn to live with COVID-19.

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