Aylmer, Ont., implements mandatory mask bylaw amid spike in coronavirus cases

The new case brings the total number of active cases in the health unit's jurisdiction to four.
The new case brings the total number of active cases in the health unit's jurisdiction to four. MikeSaran via Getty Images

Officials in Aylmer, Ont., have implemented a mandatory mask bylaw in a bid to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus as the town continues to deal with a recent surge in cases.

On Thursday alone, the community, which numbers around 7,500 people, saw five new cases added to its case total. It now stands at 52, nearly twice that seen in nearby St. Thomas, whose population is 39,000.

At least 47 of Aylmer’s cases are currently active, accounting for more than half of the region’s active case load.

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The mask bylaw, like those seen in other Ontario municipalities such as London, mandates face coverings in enclosed public spaces accessible to the public, such as stores, malls, restaurants, entertainment venues, places of worship, town buildings and more.

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“On council we’ve really been interested in getting it mandatory, but it’s just it’s a lengthy process,” said Aylmer Mayor Mary French in an interview with 980 CFPL’s Devon Peacock that will air Friday.

“It takes quite a while to get to the point where you can have a bylaw brought to council. But also the residents of Aylmer, they really wanted mandatory masks — I would say most residents in Aylmer.”

Universities, colleges, schools, child care centres, day camps, hospitals and indoor spaces owned or operated by or on half of the provincial or federal governments are among those not included in the bylaw’s definition of an enclosed public space.

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Medical masks and non-medical masks or face coverings, such as a bandana, scarf or cloth covering the nose, mouth, and chin without gaping are considered face coverings under the bylaw.

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“It’s basically going to be complaint-driven,” French said.

“So our police department, and we also have enforcement officers, if they get calls, and it could be from anyone, like store owners… then they would look into it. We’re leaving all that up to the police and the enforcement officers.”

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People convicted of violating the bylaw could face a minimum $500 fine, a fine which could add up the longer the offence continues.

Those exempt include children under two, children under five who “refuse to wear a face covering and cannot be persuaded to do so by their parent or guardian,” and those unable to wear or remove a face covering without assistance.

“Are you pretty confident that people are going to abide by the bylaw?” French was asked.

“I would hope so. I’m not sure, but I would hope so.”

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The bylaw comes exactly a week after the region’s health unit, Southwestern Public Health (SWPH), issued a region-wide mask mandate by way of an instruction under the province’s Reopening Ontario Act.

The health unit had also recommended municipalities implement their own masking bylaws as well.

A chart from Southwestern Public Health showing cumulative confirmed cases in the region during the pandemic.
A chart from Southwestern Public Health showing cumulative confirmed cases in the region during the pandemic. Southwestern Public Health

Aylmer is currently the hardest-hit area within the jurisdiction of SWPH, which covers Elgin and Oxford counties.

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As of Thursday, the town had a case rate of 694.1 per 100,000 people, more than double that of Bayham, the second hardest-hit area, which has seen the equivalent of 297.5 cases per 100,000. In comparison, St. Thomas’ case rate is 69.4.

The health unit has reported 103 new cases in its jurisdiction since the beginning of July. A total of six were reported during all of June.

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The health unit says the recent increase can’t be pinpointed to one source.

“Some are related to workplaces, some to social gatherings, some to family clusters and others are individual cases of infection related to close contacts from other regions,” said spokesperson Megan Cornwell by email.

“We do see a trend toward a relaxing of physical distancing and so we remind residents to limit their social circles to 10 people only and to practice physical distancing when they are at social gatherings of 50 people (indoors) or 100 people (outdoors).”

Outside of Aylmer, as of Thursday, 17 active cases are in Bayham, five are in Norwich, and two are in St. Thomas.

Aylmer’s mask bylaw can be read here.

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