Politicians in Lambton Shores, which includes the lakeside communities of Grand Bend, Ipperwash, and Port Franks, have voted to implement a bylaw mandating the use of face coverings in enclosed public spaces within the municipality as the coronavirus health crisis continues.
The bylaw, set to take effect on Aug. 24, passed through Tuesday’s council meeting by a margin of 7-2. It will remain in effect until Nov. 26, at which point it may be extended.
Similar to bylaws in other areas, Lambton Shore’s mandates face coverings be worn in any type of enclosed space where the public is permitted, such as stores, restaurants, office buildings, and municipal facilities, including by patrons and staff or owners, according to the document.
“Areas in a building where the public is not permitted such as lunchrooms, storage areas etc. are not classified as an enclosed public space when only employees use them,” reads a staff report presented to councillors on Tuesday.
“In addition, if an employee is protected from the public behind a physical barrier (e.g. Plexiglas) they do not require a face covering, however, the public being served would.”
Under the bylaw, a face covering is defined as a “medical-grade mask or non-medical cloth mask or other face covering,” such as a bandana, scarf or other fabric covering the nose, mouth, and chin.
In an interview Wednesday, Bill Weber, mayor of Lambton Shores, described the bylaw as fair and reasonable for indoor use.
“It’s in conjunction with regular handwashing, physical distancing, all of those other things. It’s just one part of what we can do to keep everyone safe and keep our numbers low where they are now,” said Weber, who is also Lambton County’s warden.
“As we open up things, it’s more important to protect ourselves in whatever way we can. And this is just one tool to do that.”
People under the age of nine are exempt, in line with rules around face coverings for kids returning to school. According to the province, students in grades 4 to 12 will be required to wear face coverings in school, while those from kindergarten to Grade 3 will be encouraged, but not required to wear masks.
Those unable to wear a mask for medical reasons, those unable to put on or take off a mask without assistance, those engaged in strenuous physical activity, and those consuming food or drink in food establishment are also among the exemptions.
“The mask bylaw is one thing, but people need to remember that you have to wear your mask properly,” Weber said.
“You have to take it off properly, wash it regularly. There’s a number of things that I have had it referred to as ‘smart masking.’ So I would certainly encourage people to do it properly. It’ll make a much bigger impact if people use smart masking and do it properly.”
According to Weber, reaction to the mask bylaw has been supportive for the most part, with varying levels of support and varying levels of “people that are against us having masks and taking away rights and freedoms.”
“A big concern of mine, as I stated at the meeting, is how are people going to react? … We don’t want vigilantes out there. We don’t want people using this as a way to not be kind to somebody,” he said.
Those caught failing to comply could be charged under the Provincial Offences Act. The bylaw allows for a fine up to $1,000 to be issued to those convicted.
That being said, civic staff admit enforcement of the bylaw may be a challenge, and that any enforcement will be “centered around education and awareness in all but the most egregious cases.”
Lambton Shores joins Petrolia and Sarnia as being among the only municipalities in the county that have some form of mask mandate in effect.
No county-wide mandate is in place in Lambton County. The health unit has refrained from issuing an order, saying early last month that evidence and local context did not warrant one. Each municipality was, in effect, left to figure out the issue of masks themselves.
The bylaw comes as new case levels in the county have dropped significantly compared to late March and early April when an average of five to seven cases were being reported every day. However, cases are slightly higher this month compared to July.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Deputy Mayor Doug Cook, who along with Councillor Jeff Wilcox voted against the bylaw, likened passing a mask mandate now to “closing the door after the horses left.”
“Why didn’t we do this back at the beginning? Why are we doing it now, even? The cases are dropping. When the seniors’ homes were at risk, we didn’t do anything … Now, all of a sudden, it’s a big issue in the community,” he said, adding that, for the most part, people have been proactive in wearing masks.
“Is it political or is it science? And I’m not trying to put anybody on the spot to make a decision one way or the other. I just don’t know exactly where we’re coming from. Are we getting a lot of pressure from people to say yes when we don’t have to say yes?”
Councillor Dan Sageman noted that while the area has seen low case counts, the health unit has reported spikes, and with kids set to go back to school soon, it remains to be seen how that will impact caseloads and transmission rates.
“To say that we’ve got a low case count right now and that we shouldn’t do this because of that, we, in less than three weeks, are going to be seeing thousands of children in our area go back to school and increase their bubble exponentially. And that’s kind of terrifying,” he said.
“We have to be prepared for what’s happening in the next three to four weeks when all of our little people who, it’s very hard to keep apart, are going to be in a classroom with 25 of their friends. And at recess, they get to take their masks off and go outdoors and play with 50 children.”
Last week, Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, warned that a fall surge of COVID-19 cases could overwhelm the health-care system, including its supply of critical care beds and ventilators.
National modelling projections show an expected peak in cases this fall, followed by ongoing ups and downs.
Canada is better prepared than it was when the pandemic first hit the country this spring, but officials are now planning for the likelihood of concurrent outbreaks of seasonal influenza, other respiratory illnesses and COVID-19 this fall and winter, Tam said.
The bylaw can be read here on pages 63-66.
— With files from The Canadian PressView link »