Should mask use be mandatory in Simcoe Muskoka?
In his weekly COVID-19 media briefing on June 30, Dr. Charles Gardner, medical officer of health for Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDHU), said that there has been increased interest of late in a legislated requirement for mask use.
Dr. Gardner noted that he has been part of discussions at the provincial level about the rationale for and merits of mandatory mask use, and that he has been asked by politicians across the health unit’s catchment area whether they should be enacting temporary bylaws or if he would be issuing an order regarding mask use.
“It is actively under review right now,” he said, adding that he will continue discussions with municipal leaders about use of masks in crowded indoor settings where physical distancing is difficult or impossible.
Some Ontario municipalities already have mandatory mask requirements. The medical officer of health for Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph and for the Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox, and Addington health unit have both issued orders to enforce use of masks for people in commercial settings, the former due to relatively high rates of transmission in that area and nearby regions as Stage 2 reopening occurs, and the latter in response to a COVID-19 outbreak associated with a nail salon.
Dr. Gardner noted that Toronto Public Health has recommended to Toronto City Council that it enact a temporary bylaw requiring the wearing of masks or face coverings in enclosed public settings (see the report to Toronto council here), and said that Ottawa Public Health is exploring a similar recommendation.
Legislation regarding mandatory mask use could be accomplished in one of three ways: through the Province, through an order from a health unit, or through a temporary municipal bylaw.
Premier Ford has spoken to the difficulty of enforcing a province-wide requirement. Dr. Gardner said that it would also be difficult to enforce a health unit order, as this type of order can only be enforced by health unit staff and they are completely tied up otherwise in responding to the demands of COVID-19. Individual municipalities may or may not have adequate resources to enforce a temporary bylaw.
“At the end of the day, it would be fair to say that it would be incumbent upon everybody to self-enforce if it were going to work regardless,” said Dr. Gardner. “You’d really need a lot of public good will for it to work.”
In response to a question from Huntsville Doppler about mask use by employees in food service settings, like the recently opened patios, he said, “Those who are working in the provision of food need to be wearing masks because they are coming in close contact with their customers… That is included in the recommendations, the guidelines from the Province, from the health unit. And we are happy to follow up if there are complaints to see what we can do to get compliance happening.”
He added that if there were an order or bylaw in place regarding mandatory mask use, it would have to be broad in scope to include work environments where members of the public come in close contact with workers and where workers are in close contact with each other, both indoor and outdoor public venues where people may gather when the province eventually moves into Stage 3 reopening, and transit where there is potential for crowding.
In a video message to residents today, Mayor Karin Terziano said that she has received requests from residents to make mask use mandatory in commercial settings.
“To set an example, when we reopen Town Hall on Monday, July 6, it will be signed ‘no entry without a mask’. That will apply to all Town facilities,” she said.
Terziano said that she supports and encourages wearing of masks by everyone when inside, except for young children and those with breathing difficulties. “I encourage everyone and every business to make it a priority.”
Council will discuss the issue at its July 9 meeting. “Until that time, I encourage Huntsville to step up their mask wearing,” said Terziano. “It’s a small ask that could produce huge rewards.”
Some local businesses have already taken matters into their own hands and require that customers wear a mask.
The health unit has advice for public mask-use, as well as other control measures like physical distancing and good hand hygiene, on its website here. There’s information for businesses on how to operate safely here.
Anyone with complaints about businesses not following preventative measures can contact the SMDHU Health Connection line at 705-721-7520 (1-877-721-7520) or using their secure online form here. Workers who have a concern about their health and safety that their employer is not addressing can file a complaint with the Health and Safety Contact Centre at 1-877-202-0008.
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