“We’ve been getting a lot of requests,” said Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, chief medical officer for the Eastern Ontario Health Unit (EOHU). “I do believe that masks are warranted.”
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Les masques maintenant obligatoires
During a July 6 media teleconference, Dr. Roumeliotis, along with Dr. Paula Stewart for the Leeds, Grenville and Lanark Health Unit (LGLHU), Dr. Robert Cushman for Renfrew County and District Health Unit (RCDHU), and Dr. Vera Etches of the Ottawa Public Health Unit (OPHU) explained their joint decision for a mandatory masking policy for all of Eastern Ontario.
The decision was sparked by recent outbreaks of COVID-19 in Kingston, Windsor, and Toronto at public beaches and various businesses that reopened to the public as part of Phase Two of Ontario’s economic restart plan to begin the provincial recovery from the pandemic.“It is important to note that the pandemic is not over,” said Dr. Roumeliotis.
All four health units are invoking a directive under the authority of the provincial Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act (EMCP). The mandatory masking directive applies just to the interior of public buildings, businesses, and to public common areas like the inside of transit buses or cabs, or hotel foyers.
The EOHU’s directive took effect July 7, and there is a one-week grace period for those whose operations fall under the directive to prepare themselves. Preparation means developing a policy for telling clients and customers about the mandatory masking order, making sure staff understand the order and are trained in explaining it to the public, and posting signage in prominent locations telling people that masking up inside a business or public building is mandatory.
Local police, municipal bylaw officers, or public health inspectors will enforce the directive when necessary. EMCP guidelines will apply for penalties.
The City of Ottawa will approve a masking bylaw July 15, which will give its bylaw officers authority to issue warning tickets. But it is not necessary for any of Eastern Ontario’s other 17 municipalities to approve similar bylaws as the EMCP already supports the directive. Detailed information on the masking directive, including possible exemptions, is available on each regional health unit’s website.
The overall goal of the directive is to maintain public health protection against new COVID-19 outbreaks as the provincial economic restart plan continues. All health unit officials stated that mandatory masking, along with maintaining social distancing and proper hygiene, will help reduce the risk or severity of a “second wave” of infection as businesses continue to reopen and restrictions relax on crowd sizes for social gatherings.
“We want to send a message that we are protecting each other,” Dr. Roumeliotis said. “There is scientific evidence that wearing a mask is an effective way of preventing the spread of COVID-19, and it’s another measure we are adding to our arsenal as we get ready for stage three of reopening and for back-to-school in the fall.”