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Coronavirus: London, Ont., councillors to discuss enacting mask bylaw amid provincial changes

Young female wear face protective mask taking care of hands hygiene before working. Virojt Changyencham/Getty Images

Several London councillors are calling for a special committee meeting to look at reintroducing the municipal mask bylaw with the provincial bylaw officially over.

London councillors Jesse Helmer, Stephen Turner, and Maureen Cassidy have asked acting Mayor Josh Morgan to call a special committee meeting on Tuesday to consider temporarily reintroducing the municipal mask bylaw.

As of Monday, individuals are no longer required by the province to wear a mask, except for in certain settings including public transit, long-term care and retirement homes, congregate care and living facilities, homes for individuals with developmental disabilities, other health-care settings, shelters, and jails.

Masking requirements have also been lifted in schools, as has cohorting.

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London medical officer of health Dr. Alex Summers said Monday while the health unit supports wearing a mask, he will not say whether or not a mandate is needed.

“The reality is COVID remains in our community and masks are an effective way to slow transmission as we have learned over the last number of years,” Summers said.

“There are considerations around the risks and benefits of a mandate that needs to be considered by organizations and decision makers. For us as a health unit, our recommendation continues to be for individuals to consider masking in indoor environments and organizations to consider the tools in their toolbox to consider making relative to risk in their setting.”

Read more: Ontario COVID-19 mask mandate lifts for most settings

In July 2020, the City of London at the recommendation of the Middlesex London Health Unit’s former medical officer of health introduced its own regulations regarding masking to fight the spread of COVID-19 before the provincial requirements came into effect.

The initial municipal bylaw, which was put in place at the urging of the former medical officer of health, expired at the end of 2020 with other protections in place and it no longer being required on a local level.

With the rules around masking now being gone, and the Omicron COVID-19 variant still being present in the community, a joint letter signed by Helmer, Cassidy and Turner said one is still needed.

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“Generally, we believe rules requiring masks to be worn indoors should only be lifted once the incidence of COVID-19 in our community, as measured by cases, hospitalizations and deaths, is at a much lower level,” a letter from the three read.

The three are proposing that a temporary bylaw be effective until midnight on May 9, 2022, with the option of extending it at the May 3 council meeting depending on the the state of COVID-19 in the community.

Speaking to Global News about the move, Helmer said he has received criticism and support from Londoners on the move.

“I am trying to focus on (the fact that) masking works, it reduces the spread of the virus, the virus is at a high level, people are dying from this infectious disease so we need to do what we can to contain it.”

While he does not think a mask bylaw will be needed forever, Helmer noted with the current state of COVID-19 in the community, he thinks it’s still needed.

“Unfortunately, because we are not testing the same way we did in the past it’s hard to keep an eye on cases the same we would have in the earlier parts of the pandemic, but unfortunately we can see hospitalizations and we can still see death, and 95 people have died in our community since January from COVID-19,” Helmer said.

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Read more: Coronavirus: London, Ont., councillors enact mask bylaw, exclude certain religious ceremonies

During Monday’s weekly COVID-19 media briefing, acting Mayor Josh Morgan questioned the impact the local mandate will have on businesses.

Morgan noted that in the past the province provided financial supports to those impacted by certain restrictions, but the municipality may not be in the same position to provide those supports to businesses impacted by a local mask bylaw.

“I do not believe councillors are public health experts and I am not convinced we should be moving into setting public health policy,” Morgan said.

“Without a firm recommendation of the chief medical officer of health in our region I would have significant concerns going down that path myself.”

A discussion among councillors at a special committee meeting scheduled to take places Tuesday at 2:30 to look into if a temporary mask bylaw should be put in place.

— with files from Ryan Rocca

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