Mandatory mask use for indoor public spaces

EASTERN ONTARIO – Effective July 7th at 12:01 a.m., you will be required to wear a mask or face covering in any indoor public space in Eastern Ontario. Officials with the four health units in the region made the joint announcement Monday afternoon.

“Science has told us that mandatory masking helps,” said Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, medical officer of health for the Eastern Ontario Health Unit. “It’s important to have a unified approach.”

The new health unit orders were made by the EOHU, Ottawa Public Health, the Leeds, Grenville, and Lanark District Health Unit, and the Renfrew County and District Health Unit.

For the first week of the order, there is a grace period and the health unit is focusing on education first.

“We have made very logical exemptions,” Roumeliotis told reporters. “We realize that COVID-19 can be transmitted before someone has symptoms. Adding to the masks will help the approach we have taken against COVID-19.”

“You have to be ahead of [COVID-19],” said Dr. Paula Stewart, medical officer of health with the LGLDHU. “You can’t run and chase COVID-19. Many businesses are doing an incredible job. This order is a common playing field for all. It’s really about social responsibility.”

Masks or face coverings used must securely cover the nose, mouth, and chin, and must be worn in all public indoor spaces including retail stores and municipal facilities.

The masks or face coverings used will have to securely cover the nose, mouth and chin. Health concerns are valid reasons for an exemption. Clear plastic face shields do not qualify as a mask or face covering under the order, but can be used by someone with a medical exemption as one form of protection.

The orders by the four health units were made under the province’s Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act. Roumeliotis said that this is a blanket order so that municipalities will not have to pass individual municipal bylaws to enact a face coverings requirement.

Roumeliotis said that guidance for businesses and municipalities is being communicated by the health units and that enforcement would be done by police and local bylaw officers. While education is his goal in the EOHU, Roumeliotis said that fines up to $700 can be issued in “severe cases.”

In the days leading up to the face mask/covering order, a number of Facebook groups and online petitions have been started in opposition to the government mandate.

“We’ve had a slew of Facebook and social media posts about the fact that we’re taking away people’s liberties,” he said saying that the complaints were in the minority. “A lot are founded on the fact that they don’t understand what the limitations are going to be.”

“I’ve never had so many emails, directly to me, by citizens asking for the mandate,” said Roumeliotis.

The move to mandate face mask use comes after the City of Toronto imposed the same mandate last week and Ontario premier Doug Ford saying it would be a regional decision.

“It’s no secret that guidance has evolved throughout the COVID-19 response including on masking,” said Dr. Vera Etches, medical officer of health with OPH. “We’ve seen more and more evidence every day with COVID-19 that wearing a mask does reduce transmission, particularly in enclosed public spaces.”

She added that wearing a mask is only one part of being “COVID-wise” and that people should still follow all existing public health guidance already in place including staying home from work when feeling ill.

The face mask order is until further notice, but all four health units will be reviewing the implementation of the order on a regular basis.

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