Ottawa, surrounding regions make indoor masks mandatory as of Tuesday

A couple wear masks while out for a walk in downtown Ottawa during the COVID-19 pandemic on Friday, May 1, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Public health units from Ottawa and three surrounding regions have acted in unison to make wearing masks mandatory when inside businesses and other indoor public spaces in an effort to keep infection rates surrounding the novel coronavirus pinned down in the area.

The new directive goes into effect at 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday, July 7. It follows similar directives and bylaws from numerous other municipalities in Ontario.

Ottawa Public Health (OPH), alongside its counterparts in Eastern Ontario, Leeds, Grenville and Lanark, and Renfrew County, announced details of the new rules in a conference call on Monday afternoon.

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Non-medical cloth masks will be required in Ottawa restaurants, retailers and malls, places of worship, doctor’s offices, recreational and cultural facilities such as museums and indoor sports arenas, common spaces in hotels and in private transportation such as taxis.

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Bandanas or any other material that fully covers the nose, mouth and chin are acceptable substitutes to traditional masks, but OPH says hijabs and other head coverings must be worn with a mask.

Face shields, which do not filter droplets that might be carrying the virus, are not considered adequate alternatives, but are “better than nothing,” according to OPH.

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Children under the age of two and anyone who has a medical exemption will not be asked to wear a mask. They will not be asked to identify or provide proof of their condition.

Children will also not be expected to wear masks in schools or daycares under this directive.

A full list of frequently asked questions on the mandatory mask rule is available here.

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Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, medical officer of health with the Eastern Ontario Health Unit, said Monday that he and his counterparts are taking a “good faith” approach to enforcing the mask rule, which will include a 10-day “grace period” at the start of the directive to educate residents about the new expectations.

Business operators and employees are instructed to provide verbal reminders to customers entering their space without a mask.

In Ottawa, city council will consider a temporary bylaw to make masks mandatory on July 15.

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While the bylaw might seem at first blush to be redundant with the regional health units’ announcement, Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa’s medical officer of health, said Monday the proposal would provide “nuance” to the city’s “enforcement toolbox.”

She said the bylaw, which would likely contain the same details regarding mandatory masks as Monday’s directive, would allow Ottawa to set its own rules around warnings and escalating fines.

Any bylaw Ottawa council passes would replace the current directives, which are declared under Ontario’s emergency orders.

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The medical officers of health on Monday’s call said they had heard calls from businesses in the region to institute such a directive, as it would give them a common authority to point to when fielding questions from customers and employees about why masks are needed.

A recent OPH survey also showed a majority of residents indicated they’d feel more comfortable when shopping if wearing a mask was mandatory.

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