Mandatory masks in enclosed public spaces starts Tuesday

Four medical officers of health speak about a mandatory masking order during a news conference on Monday, July 6, 2020. Pictured (clockwise from top, left) Dr. Robert Cushman (Renfrew and County), Dr. Paula Stewart (Leeds-Grenville-Lanark), Dr. Paul Roumeliotis (Eastern Ontario) and Dr. Vera Etches (Ottawa Public Health). (Zoom/EOHU via Newswatch Group)

EASTERN ONTARIO – The mandatory wearing of masks in indoor, enclosed public spaces will take effect tomorrow (Tuesday).

The medical officers of health for Eastern Ontario, Leeds-Grenville-Lanark, Ottawa and Renfrew announced the new rules under Emergency Management Ontario. The City of Ottawa will enforce its rules under a municipal bylaw expected to be passed this week.

People will be required to wear a mask that covers the nose, mouth and chin in enclosed public spaces. That includes restaurants, retail locations, shopping malls, places of worship, libraries, museums, sports facilities, gyms, common areas of motels and hotels, inside taxis, personal service settings, common areas of health facilities and municipal public spaces.

Some of the places where people will need to be masked are currently not open but the masking directive is meant to move the region toward stage three. The officers of health spoke about the tourism travel between the four jurisdictions as part of the reason for a uniform approach.

Face shields will not qualify as a mask under the law but may be an alternate for someone with a medical exemption.

Eastern Ontario Health Unit Medical Officer of Health Dr. Paul Roumeliotis says “our approach will be an educational approach” – with a one week grace period until July 14.

Roumeliotis says there are “very logical exemptions,” which include child care, schools and offices not open to the public or where clients receive services not open to the public, like a lawyer or accountant.

Leeds-Grenville-Lanark Medical Officer of Health Dr. Paula Stewart says her region was hit really hard by COVID-19 in March, April and May. “We have to be ahead of it, you can’t run and chase it,” she said.

Stewart added that the situation can “turn in a flash,” citing the outbreak that happened at a Kingston nail salon.

As for enforcement, Roumeliotis says they will not require businesses to prove public medical exemptions.

“We will not put the onus on the operator (business) to have proof. We will rely on people’s good will. Call that naive but I think it’s the best approach. We don’t want to put the onus or the responsibility on the business owner and, yes, there’s a risk of people lying but that’s all we can do. As long as the majority of people abide, studies have shown as the percentage of the people who are masked increases, you get a better effect,” Roumeliotis told Newswatch.

Children less than two years old, children under five who “chronologically or developmentally” refuse to wear a mask, people with cognitive or breathing difficulties and those who can’t take a mask off themselves are exempt.

As for municipal government offices, only areas where the public is served or the public has access, will municipal workers be required to wear masks. If those employees are behind plexiglass, they will be exempt.