Stage 3 Ontario: Peterborough ‘ready’ for mask-wearing order, medical officer of health says

Click to play video 'Reasoning behind making masks mandatory in Peterborough' Reasoning behind making masks mandatory in Peterborough
On Monday, Peterborough's Medical Officer of Health announced that wearing a mask would be mandatory in indoor commercial settings, beginning August 1. And since then, the health unit has been fielding calls and emails asking for clarification on why the directive was implement so late into the pandemic, particularly because Peterborough hasn't had a case of COVID-19 in 32 days.

The medical officer of health for Peterborough Public Health says the region is “ready” for a mandatory mask-wearing policy for commercial indoor settings and transit.

Dr. Rosana Salvaterra stated Monday the directive for the health unit’s jurisdiction will go into effect on Aug. 1. The health unit serves the City of Peterborough, Peterborough County, Hiawatha First Nation and Curve Lake First Nation.

Read more: Coronavirus — Mandatory face mask policy for Peterborough area to begin Aug. 1

In Wednesday’s media briefing, she answered a number of inquiries about the masking policy. She said based on feedback and input from municipal leaders, businesses and residents, the region is ready to accept masks for many indoor settings amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“I believe we are ready,” she said.

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She noted that the policy is for commercial establishments and that places such as schools, places of worship, art galleries and libraries fall outside the directive.

“We are strongly recommending that these measures be adopted,” she said.

The most common inquiries the health unit has received include:

Why wait until Aug. 1?

Salvaterra explained the policy is “before or by” Aug. 1 since many businesses have already implemented a mask-wearing policy. The timeline is to allow businesses to prepare for the changes — installing signage, training staff and implementing other resources and tools.

“There is nothing stopping from anyone moving ahead (with the mask order),” she said.

She also noted that the date coincides with the City of Peterborough’s planned launch of changes to public transit and that officials asked that the policy be in line with theirs.

Why now and not four months earlier?

Salvaterra said all along the health unit has wanted physical distancing to be the “foundation” of its public health measures.

“I had been concerned that relying on masks might give a false sense of reassurance — I was hesitant to make that a requirement too soon,” said Salvaterra.

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She said with Stage 3 reopenings across Ontario there is an “increasing risk” of a resurgence of COVID-19 in the community with more people moving about and bars and restaurants allowing patrons inside.

“There has been some worrisome incidents of resurgence internationally and there have been some experiences of limited resurgences in Ontario,” she said.

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She noted that many business owners have expressed concerns about visitors from higher-transmission areas coming to the region to shop and “potentially affecting their staff.” A recent survey by the Peterborough Chamber of Commerce found that 70 per cent of those surveyed were in favour of a mask-wearing policy.

“It seems the right time to take this extra step of moving from a strong recommendation to a requirement,” she said.

She said municipalities wanted a “consistent” approach, which is why she made the directive under Ontario’s Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act rather than individual municipalities passing bylaws.

Who is exempted from the policy?

  • A child under age two or a child under the age of five either chronologically or developmentally who 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.

Can businesses turn people away?

Salvaterra said she doesn’t believe businesses should turn patrons away if they are unable to wear a mask if they fall under an exemption.

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She also said business owners and operators have the right to refuse entry to individuals.

Read more: Which mask should I buy? ⁠From cotton to silk, finding the right fabrics

“However, I’m hoping for a respectful implementation of my directive and I’m trusting individuals to do what they can to protect themselves and others,” she said. “I think it’s important to remember to be kind to one another at this time.”

Salvaterra admits she doesn’t expect 100 per cent compliancy from shoppers but she does expect staff to be wearing masks when moving about (e.g. stocking shelves) and more retail staff behind plexiglass barriers so they won’t need to wear masks.

“Rather than shame and blame, I’m asking we give each other the benefit of the doubt,” she said.

Is it OK to wear a face shield instead?

Salvaterra said face shields are designed to protect one’s eyes and don’t provide a “snug fit” around one’s nose and mouth like a mask. Most medical professionals wear both.

Enforcement of the policy?

Julie Ingram, manager of environmental health, said the early announcement is focused on educating businesses and the public and that the policy will be implemented in “good faith.”

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An online complaints forum is available to submit concerns about facilities that might be not compliant and they will be investigated.

“Currently our inspectors are going to premises, making phone calls and making businesses aware of the directive,” said Ingram.

Read more: Ontario business owners on their own when it comes to mask bylaw enforcement

Peterborough Mayor Diane Therrien says the mask-wearing policy is “necessary and timely” as the region continues the Stage 3 reopening.

“We are looking out not only for ourselves, but others,” she said. “I think that’s the key piece of wearing a mask.”

Therrien said residents will notice changes to many municipal buildings when they reopen to protect residents and staff.

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Highlights of the health unit’s weekly situation report:

  • More than 20,500 residents have been tested and more than 950 more residents have been tested since July 15. The figures represent the number of individual tests.
  • One out of every seven residents has been tested for COVID-19.
  • 54 per cent of cases are women.
  • Approximately 57 per cent of cases involve people between ages 20 and 59.
  • Sources of exposure: 52.6 per cent contact with a case, 27.4 per cent travel, 20 per cent community spread.
  • Case incidence rates: 64 cases per 100,000 residents versus provincial average 256 cases per 100,000 residents.
  • No outbreak for the health unit has been declared in nine weeks.

Chief Laurie Carr of Hiawatha First Nation thanked the health unit for its work during the pandemic and noted that the First Nation remains in Stage 2. A Stage 3 reopening won’t occur for at least another two to three weeks.

She said council implemented its own mask-wearing policy for indoor settings, which went into effect on July 13.

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