At a special meeting on Monday, a two-year face covering and physical distancing rule was nixed “in alignment” with the Ford government’s “Living with and Managing COVID-19” plan released earlier this month.
Councillors voted 14-0 to end a physical distancing rule, but the vote to close masking bylaws was not as decisive.
Ward 1’s (Chedoke-Cootes) Maureen Wilson and Ward 3’s (Hamilton Centre) Nrinder Nann voted against the action, suggesting dismissal of face masks would not benefit the city’s most vulnerable residents.
“But I can’t support repealing this right now. Not when so many folks and experts in the field have pointed to the value of waiting a little bit longer, especially after March break,” Nann told councillors.
Mayor Fred Eisenberger suggested the province’s green light to discard the policy coupled with a city decision to enforce bylaws to the contrary would simply be “untenable” and potentially not enforceable.
“If we were to continue on with the bylaw that folks would be … giving everybody out there that’s running a business or an operation, including the City of Hamilton, a particularly hard time if not an impossible time,” Eisenberger said.
The bylaws allowed city officers to issue fines of $500 and up to individuals not meeting edicts set by Ontario’s Emergency Measures and Civil Protection Act.
Current provincial regulations still require masks to be worn in high-risk settings, including public transit, long-term care and retirement homes, health-care settings, shelters and correctional facilities.
Masking also continues to be required in certain circumstances such as individuals who are close contacts of positive COVID-19 cases, and those who have travelled outside of Canada recently.
All provincial COVID-19 measures are expected to be lifted by the end of April.
The city’s forum on masks happened after the latest pandemic Scarsin forecast from Hamilton Public Health in which the medical officer of health characterized the pandemic to be at a “manageable level.”
In a board of health meeting on Monday, Dr. Elizabeth Richardson said cases are likely to see some sort of resurgence but doesn’t anticipate any significant impact based on epidemiology seen over several weeks.
“So encouraging people very much to continue to apply the knowledge that they’ve gained over the last two years is absolutely critical as we go forward” Richardson said.
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“The biggest threats to us will be mostly among the waning of immunity that may come in.”
As per revised Public Health Ontario guidelines, masks are no longer required in most social settings such as restaurants, gyms, large event spaces and schools.
However, the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board is keeping a mask mandate until April 1 despite the provincial order.
Richardson has also rescinded a letter of instructions for high-rise apartments and high-rise condominium buildings previously put in place July 2021 which included an order for face masks in common areas.
The city is still urging operators to keep up vigorous cleaning and disinfecting of high-touch surfaces in those accommodations as well as ensuring HVAC systems are functioning properly and maintained on a regular basis.
“Local businesses and organizations may also require or encourage masking based on the risk in their workplaces and to their patrons” the city said in a statement following the council meeting.
“Public Health Services strongly supports these decisions and would encourage all Hamiltonians to be kind and respectful to their neighbours, regardless of their personal choices and circumstances.”