Coronavirus: Mask bylaw an ‘important’ part as Hamilton enters Stage 3: EOC

Hamilton's EOC Director Paul Johnson addresses the media during a daily update session at city hall on March 13, 2020. Don Mitchell / Global News

Hamilton’s emergency operations centre (EOC) director believes the city’s mandatory face-covering bylaw will be critical in avoiding a possible setback as Hamilton enters Stage 3 of Ontario’s COVID-19 reopening plan on Friday.

Paul Johnson says the city bylaw was essentially put in place for the imminent entry into the next phase which will see the resumption of indoor dining at restaurants and bars, as well as the opening of gyms.

“Masks are a very important part of entering into Stage 3 because more people will be out, more indoor facilities available and less opportunity for people to keep their distance,” Johnson told Global News.

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On Monday, the city’s mandatory mask bylaw came into effect requiring people to wear face coverings while inside any space that is accessible to the public.

Councillors voted 12-3 in favour of the bylaw on Friday which is similar to others in St. Catharines, Burlington, Toronto, Kitchener, Guelph, Waterloo and Brantford, which require the general public to cover faces in public indoor spaces like retail stores, city facilities and public transit.

The law allows temporary removal of a mask or face covering when receiving services such as a meal or engaging in athletic or fitness activity.

Read more: Remaining Ontario regions to move to Stage 3 Friday, except Toronto, Peel, Windsor

Johnson says city officials started to talk about a mask bylaw as Hamilton began preparing for an inevitable move to Stage 3 at some point in the summer.

“So we’re going to be in that position very soon to open into Stage 3, lots of indoor facilities available. And this is why we want to add that layer of protection,” Johnson said.

Hamilton’s bylaw imposes a $200 fine for people caught not complying and a $500 fine for businesses that don’t post signs saying masks are mandatory.

There are exemptions for individuals who are unable to wear a mask or face covering for medical reasons, and for children under two years old and for other “reasonable accommodations.”

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However, Johnson says that masks do not replace other public health recommendations around physical distancing and hygiene.

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“Not going out anywhere when you’re sick, those types of things remain,” Johnson said, “This is just that added layer of protection. And the emerging evidence is that it has a benefit.”

Read more: Evidence suggests cloth masks could help in fight against transmission of coronavirus: researchers

In late May, Dr. Catherine Clase, associate professor of medicine at McMaster University and a nephrologist of St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton, who was a part of an international opinion piece published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, said there were indications that cloth masks can block droplet and aerosol contamination in the environment.

Clase said the idea goes back to references in medical papers and news stories which laid out some evidence of the effectiveness of four-layer masks.

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“We identified some historic masks from the 1960s and ’70s that blocked more than 90 per cent of particles, which would be really amazing if we could produce that today,” said Clase.

Hamilton’s medical officer of health said she concurred with the evidence piece and agrees a well-constructed mask with at least two layers of tightly-woven fabric may be as effective as a surgical mask.

Read more: Ontario reports 135 new coronavirus cases, 1 death; total cases surpass 37,700

“It may be that it provides some protection from other people in that way. But the main job it does is to stop anybody who’s sick and doesn’t know it yet from spreading that virus to others,” said Dr. Elizabeth Richardson.

However, not everyone in the city appears to be on board with having to wear a mask as about a hundred people rallied at Gore Park on Sunday against mandatory rules saying masking infringes on people’s rights.

Anti-masking advocates rallied at Hamilton’s Gore Park on Sunday July 20, 2020. The advocacy group says mandatory masking infringes on people’s rights. Lisa Polewski / Global News

Advocacy group Hugs Over Masks organized the afternoon rally as part of their push to “restoring our liberties” in Ontario claiming that lockdown measures are “unnecessarily harming Ontarians’ health and rights.”

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A professor of clinical psychology at the University of Texas at San Antonio, Dr. Mary McNaughton-Cassill, says in her experience people who don’t want to wear a mask are typically people that don’t like following rules in general.

“I don’t think it’s because they’re necessarily just being rebellious,” said McNaughton-Cassill, “I think there’s so many reasons behind it. I mean, masks aren’t comfortable. That’s part of it. But another part of it is it depends on how much you trust people, and when you can’t see people’s faces, that can really make you feel uncomfortable.”

Infectious disease specialist at Toronto General Hospital, Dr. Isaac Bogoch, believes masks may have played a part in a recent incident reported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in which two Missouri hairstylists who wore masks and had symptoms of COVID-19 did not infect any of the 139 clients they saw over a two-day period.

Read more: Here’s what to expect as city halls are open in the Hamilton-Niagara region

“It just demonstrates what we already know: that masks are very helpful in preventing the spread of COVID-19,” Bogoch told Global News.

He says the masks seem to be helpful for settings in which people are interacting with those around them and have mild symptoms or no symptoms.

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“It really just hammers home the point that we should really be wearing masks in indoor settings, especially when we can’t practise physical distancing to really help prevent the spread of COVID-19. It’s as simple as that,” Bogoch said.

Following premier Ford’s announcement on Tuesday allowing seven more regions – including Halton, Hamilton, Niagara Region and Haldimand-Norfolk – to enter Stage 3, Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger pleaded for vigilance in a statement.

“I will once again ask our community to have patience as we work to make sure our reopening remains safe and successful as we do not want to undo the great progress we have made so far,” Eisenberger said, “Entering into Stage 3 does not mean our fight against this virus is over.”

Read more: ‘I’m not willing to go’: Canadian truckers worry about entering U.S. due to coronavirus

As part of Stage 3 rules, gathering limits are allowed to increase to a maximum of 50 people indoors and a maximum of 100 people outdoors, with physical distancing in place.

Paul Johnson says wearing masks in Stage 3 is about protecting the city’s businesses that are reopening after enduring closures due to the pandemic.

“I think that people get these things by and large and they’ll respect it, and also respect that the businesses are trying to make sure that they can stay open,” said Johnson.

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“There’s a lot that happens if you have a little bit of an outbreak that’s associated with a business. It has an impact on the people that were there and it has an impact on the business itself.”

Hamilton reports 11 new COVID-19 cases

On Monday, Hamilton public health reported that the city’s overall COVID-19 cases increased to 884 with 11 new cases reported on the weekend. Those numbers include 875 confirmed cases and nine probable.

There were no new reported deaths on Monday. The city has 44 total coronavirus-related deaths with 34 connected to an institutional outbreak.

The city has one institutional outbreak at the Community Living Hamilton-Mountain Residence as of July 20.


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Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out. In situations where you can’t keep a safe distance from others, public health officials recommend the use of a non-medical face mask or covering to prevent spreading the respiratory droplets that can carry the virus. In some provinces and municipalities across the country, masks or face coverings are now mandatory in indoor public spaces.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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