The health unit serves the city of Peterborough, all eight municipalities of Peterborough County and Hiawatha and Curve Lake First Nations.
Dr. Rosana Salvaterra, the health unit’s medical officer of health, says after collaborating with municipal leaders, she is invoking a directive under Ontario’s Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act that requires individuals to wear a face covering in certain indoor public spaces.
The directive applies to all owners and operators of commercial establishments, public transit services and commercial transportation services within the health unit’s catchment area.
She noted that Aug. 1 was selected to allow the public to get ready for the policy and to give businesses time to prepare for the policy, such as training staff and installing signage.
“Although not conclusive, there is increasing scientific evidence that wearing a face covering can help reduce COVID-19 transmission,” said Salvaterra. “This measure will help both residents and visitors to our area and adds to a clear and consistent regionalized approach to mandatory face coverings across the central Ontario region, especially as we move into Stage 3 of our restart.”
Salvaterra also said the health unit is asking businesses to make masks available or more available.
“They may choose to sell them, they may choose to provide them,” Salvaterra told Global News Peterborough. “We are working with the city and the county and our service groups to see if we can actually increase access to face coverings so that they are not an obstacle. So that access is not an obstacle for people who want to wear them but who maybe don’t have the means to purchase.”
As of Sunday, the health unit reported no active cases of coronavirus. The last new case was reported on June 20 — a streak of 29 consecutive days.
Salvaterra emphasized that as the Peterborough area enters Stage 3 of the provincial reopening plan, following public health guidance is key to staving off a resurgence of COVID-19.
“While local businesses and organizations are doing their part to implement measures within their settings to prevent the spread of coronavirus, as individuals we also need to continue our efforts such as physical distancing, washing our hands often, staying home when sick, and now, wearing a face covering when in an enclosed public space,” she said.
The health unit says the directive will be enacted and enforced in “good faith” and will be primarily used as a means to educate people on mandatory mask use in enclosed public spaces.
“We have heard directly from many local residents and community partners that a clear mandatory mask directive is important to them to keep our community safe,” said Salvaterra. “Socializing and normalizing mask use in enclosed public places will help protect others, especially our most vulnerable residents.”
Salvaterra noted, though, that it is equally as important not to stigmatize those who are unable to wear face coverings for medical reasons.
“Being kind, patient and respectful to others is just as important as any infection control measure as we also must remember to support each other’s mental health during the pandemic,” she said.
There are exemptions to the policy including:
- A child under age 2 or is a child under the age of 5 either chronologically or developmentally and he or she refuses to wear a face covering and cannot be persuaded to do so by their caregiver;
- The person is incapacitated and unable to remove their face covering without assistance;
- Wearing a face covering would inhibit the person’s ability to breathe such as, but not limited to, during athletic, fitness or physical activity or any activity that would preclude its use (such as swimming);
- For any other medical reason, the person cannot safely wear a face covering such as, but not limited to, respiratory disease, cognitive difficulties or difficulties in hearing or processing information.
- For any religious reason, the person cannot wear a face covering.
“We’re asking everyone who enters to wear a mask. People have the right, it’s private property, if they want to restrict access and deny people access, that’s within their right — that is not the approach we’re taking,” Salvaterra said.
“We’re asking that people be reminded to wear a mask, and if they’re not — keeping in mind that there are people who are exempt — so again there’s an educational piece for staff to understand who should not wear a mask when they come into their establishment.”
The health unit also highlighted a recent survey by the Peterborough Chamber of Commerce, which indicated nearly 70 per cent of its members favoured a mandatory mask policy.
In a tweet on Friday, Peterborough Mayor Diane Therrien noted a policy was forthcoming and that she “strongly” encourages people to wear face coverings.
Last Monday, a mask-wearing order went into effect after being issued by the Haliburton, Kawartha Pine Ridge District Health Unit for the City of Kawartha Lakes and Northumberland and Haliburton counties.
More to come.