On July 7, 2020, the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit said that effective Monday, July 13, 2020, masks or face coverings will be required in indoor public spaces and while using transit.
“The danger lurks. The potential is still there. With the few cases that we have here, they could act as seeds to germinate a new surge if we are not on our guard and we’re not careful,” said Dr. Charles Gardner, SMDHU medical officer of health, in a briefing on July 7.
The requirement comes under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act and requires that businesses and organizations have a policy in place which requires that all people within the public areas of their premises wear a face covering or a mask unless they meet certain exemptions.
“If we all do that together, we can reduce the risk for everybody,” said Dr. Gardner.
He added that he had received strong support for mandatory face covering use from municipal CAOs in Simcoe Muskoka, as well as from many physicians. He acknowledged that at least one physician was opposed, citing primarily research done on medical masks.
Here are answers to some questions you may have about this requirement:
Why am I being asked to wear a mask or face covering?
“We’re all in this together, as they say. We all have to do our part to flatten the curve. We’ve had success here and we want to maintain our success. We don’t want to go back to a lockdown of some kind in the future,” said Dr. Gardner. “All of us are concerned about the potential for a second wave now or in the fall. We need to implement what we can and we need to do it together.
“This has been an exercise all along of working together to achieve what we’ve been able to achieve. In areas where they haven’t been able to work together, where the leadership has not been there to make sure that happens, then they end up with a resurgence again and they end up with unnecessary disease, death and potential loss of business…as they are forced into a lockdown again.”
Dr. Gardner said even those opposed to the measures need to help out and that the health unit welcomes their concerns and questions “so that we can walk through them… This is a learning process for us. This virus has only been around for just over six months. We still have a lot to learn about it but at the end of the day we need to work together.”
Are face coverings really effective for this virus?
Current evidence suggests that use of face coverings helps slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health has a list of evidence-based information regarding face coverings here.
What type of face coverings are acceptable?
Face coverings should cover your nose and mouth and chin to limit the spread of respiratory droplets when you cough, sneeze, or talk.
“If you leave the nose exposed, then you’re really not achieving any benefit,” said Dr. Gardner. “You’re still potentially spreading to other people.”
You can use face coverings like a homemade mask or a purchased cloth mask, a hijab, a niqab, a buff or a bandana. Medical masks should be reserved for workers in healthcare settings.
Make sure the face covering fits well around your nose and mouth. Be sure to wash your hands or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer immediately before putting it on and immediately after taking it off. Avoid moving the mask around or adjusting it often, and change it if it gets slightly wet or dirty. Do not share it with others.
Wash your reusable face covering in hot water (it can be washed with other items) with your regular laundry detergent. Be sure to wash your hands after putting it in the laundry. Dry your face covering thoroughly before using it again.
Single-use face coverings should be discarded in a lined garbage bin after use.
Can I wear a face shield instead?
Face shields are not a good substitute for face coverings or masks. Your nose, mouth, and chin must be covered. Face shields protect the wearer from respiratory droplets but do not protect those around them, and must be worn with a mask.They are, however, an option for people who are unable to wear a mask.
What about young children or people with medical concerns that affect their breathing?
Children under two years of age and children between two and five years of age (chronologically or developmentally) who can’t manage a mask shouldn’t wear one.
People with medical conditions that make wearing a mask unsafe, such as breathing difficulties, cognitive
difficulties, and difficulties in hearing or processing information, should not wear a mask, nor should anyone who is unable to remove the mask without help.
You will not be required by businesses to provide proof of exemption.
Where do I have to wear a mask?
You are required to wear a mask in all businesses or organizations that are openly accessible to the public.
Only indoor public spaces are subject to the face covering requirement, meaning any areas in which customers interact with one another or with staff members, and any areas that are open or accessible to members of the public.
- Retail stores,
- Convenience stores,
- Malls and shopping plazas,
- Food premises (indoor),
- Personal service settings,
- Grocery stores and bakeries,
- Churches or faith settings,
- Farmers’ markets,
- Areas of mechanics’ shops and garages, and repair shops which are open to the public,
- Community centres,
- Private transportation (e.g. bus, taxi, or limo),
- Public transportation (e.g. bus or train),
- Business offices open to the public, and
- Professional offices where clients receive purchased services (e.g. a lawyer’s or accountant’s office) that are not open to members of the public
Locations that are exempt include:
- Schools, licensed child care centers and indoor/outdoor day camps;
- Indoor areas of a building accessible to only employees; and
- Areas that are outside, whether or not the areas are covered (e.g. restaurant patios).
Even when wearing a mask indoors, you should still do your best to maintain a two-metre distance from other people, and follow all other control measures: wash your hands often with soap and water or using alcohol-based hand sanitizer, sneeze and cough into your sleeve, and stay home if you are ill.
“Each of these measures adds a layer of protection,” said Dr. Gardner. “You have to continue doing all of these things.”
You can temporarily remove your face covering when necessary to receive services (including eating or drinking when dine-in services are allowed) or while actively engaging in an athletic or fitness activity including water-based activities. You can also go without a mask for religious reasons.
Can a business refuse me service if I don’t wear a face covering?
Yes. Any business, organization or transit service has the right to deny entry. However, the health unit is taking an educational approach and has asked businesses to verbally remind customers to wear a face covering.
“…we want best effort and we want good will in the implementation of this,” said Dr. Gardner. “We are not going as far as saying we absolutely requireto prohibit people from remaining on their premises or coming on their premises [if they don’t wear a mask]. We are taking a slightly softer approach or step with this. We are hopeful that this will be enough to achieve a high degree of compliance. We are looking above 80 per cent in keeping with what the research shows to be effective.”
Will businesses supply masks for free if a customer doesn’t have one?
“I think it would be a facilitator for all of this and would probably be good for businesses early on as people start to catch on to allow them to come in,” said Dr. Gardner. “In fact, we have not mandated that they must do this.”
Can I be fined for not wearing a mask?
Yes. Although the health unit is taking an approach of education and awareness, people, businesses or organizations who do not comply with the requirements may be fined as per the Emergency Management and Civil Protections Act.
Individuals may be liable for a fine of $750-1,000 up to a maximum of $100,000. Corporations may be liable for a fine of up to $10,000,000 for each day or part of each day on which the offence occurs or continues
How will this be enforced?
Under the EMCPA, both the public health unit and municipal bylaw officers can enforce these requirements.
“We don’t have personnel at our disposal to be very actively enforcing on this,” said Dr. Gardner. “I’m sure that we will get public reports that we can then follow up with proprietors about what it takes to do this or do this well.”
He added that bylaw and police “are very busy too and they are not going to have extra resources to be able to place a heavy emphasis on enforcement. It’s going to be very limited, it’s going to be based more on education, follow up, and support.”
How long will this requirement be in effect?
The SMDHU requirement will continue as long as provincial emergency orders remain in force.
Municipalities could also choose to pass a bylaw to support this order from the health unit. If they choose to implement a bylaw, its end date would be set by council.
For more information on the requirement to wear face masks, see the SMDHU FAQs here.
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