Before entering hospitals and other Alberta Health Services facilities, screening staff take visitors through a set of questions and provide a fresh face mask.
Masking is a public health protocol that's becoming more widespread since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the province. In many municipalities, whether you are shopping for groceries or waiting inside of a medical clinic, face coverings are mandatory.
But that's also brought upon some resistance. Some question the effectiveness of masking, others imply requiring a face covering infringes on freedoms, or fear it could adversely affect their health. It's become a politicized issue across North America.
Dr. Michael Chatenay, who works at the Grey Nuns Community Hospital in Edmonton, said most people breeze through screening and enter the building without a fuss. But increasingly, he's seeing daily bouts of abuse against staff trying to follow protocol. Mostly, Chatenay sees verbal abuse, but recently one of these incidents turned physically violent.
A man was visiting his wife at the hospital and refused to wear a mask, Chatenay said.
"Three security guards came to help calm him down," Chatenay said. "In the altercation that ensued, one of them was struck in the face and injured by this gentleman."
Chatenay says for the most part, the people he has interacted with who push back on wearing masks don't believe masks are effective because COVID-19 continues to spread.
In Toronto, a woman filmed the moment when staff at St. Joseph's Health Care Centre asked her to leave because she refused to wear a mask. The woman told CBC she'd done research online that suggested wearing a face-covering could compromise her health.
"I'm incredulous that this is even a conversation that's happening," Chatenay said. "I'm a surgeon. And so I put a mask on and I wear a mask for literally hours a day. And anybody that says that your oxygen decreases or your carbon dioxide increases and it affects your mental faculties is frankly wrong."
In a statement, AHS spokesman James Wood said masking is an important tool that can be used to keep Albertans safe during the pandemic.
"We understand that staff have experienced some resistance from some individuals regarding the masking requirements," wrote Wood. "However, given the high volume of patients and visitors to AHS facilities, those circumstances have been rare."
Wood wrote that no patient will be denied service because they cannot or will not wear a mask.
"It is imperative that we consider the health of patients, and our duty to provide care, in all circumstances," Wood wrote. "In exceptional circumstances, families and visitors who refuse to wear a mask may be asked to leave an AHS facility."
In Calgary, Dr. Joe Vipond said he hasn't seen similar abuse or pushback at the Rockyview General Hospital where he works as an ER physician.
'They want it to go away'
Vipond is an organizer with the Alberta chapter of the Masks4Canada — a physician-led group advocating for mandatory mask rules.
In a general setting, Vipond said mandatory masking has helped increase the number of people wearing face coverings. And the goal is to get a critical mass of about 80 per cent of the population to wear a mask.
But, he added, in a hospital or medical setting he feels everyone should be in a mask.
"The safety of our staff is paramount," Vipond said, adding he'd request more PPE if in contact with a patient or visitor who isn't masked. "I would be requesting to wear an N-95 mask and I would be minimizing contact in that space."
Chatenay said wearing a mask is the least people can do during this time, along with staying home when sick, maintaining a physical distance, and keeping hands clean.
But one of the biggest takeaways he sees is the need for kindness.
"People are scared and they're fatigued and tired of this whole thing," Chatenay said. "They want it to go away. And everybody copes with stress differently. But when you start to physically threaten people that are just trying to do their jobs, it's a problem."