By Sue Tiffin
Face masks will be mandatory in businesses in Haliburton County as of July 13 according to instructions issued by the local medical officer of health in an end-of-day announcement made July 7 by the Haliburton Kawartha Pine Ridge District Health Unit.
“Owners and operators of commercial establishments currently operating during Stage 2 will be required to have policies in place to stop people from entering the establishment if they are not wearing a non-medical mask or face covering” reads part of the announcement titled Required Use of Non-Medical Masks and Face Coverings Within Commercial Establishments noting the instructions for masking are effective 12:01 a.m. on Monday July 13 while the provincial emergency orders remain in force or until the instructions are discontinued by the local medical officer of health.
“Although we have seen a decline in the number of COVID-19 cases in our area we want to be sure we continue to see a decrease as we move towards the reopening of more businesses within the province” says Dr. Lynn Noseworthy medical officer of health for the HKPR District Health Unit. “We need to do everything we can to avoid the chance of a resurgence in activity that we have seen in some other places.”
Commercial establishments that are open to the public and used for the purposes of offering goods or services for sale including retail stores convenience stores restaurants personal services settings grocery stores and bakeries gas stations indoor farmers’ markets and areas of mechanics’ shops/garages/repair shops which are open to the public are included in the instructions.
“Wearing a mask is about protecting other people Dr. Noseworthy says and reduces the likelihood that someone could unknowingly spread the virus to another person” reads the press release.
“Provincially we have seen a number of asymptomatic cases” said Noseworthy in the release. “This is just another step in doing what we can to protect our family friends and neighbours in our communities.”
The release said the policy of commercial establishments should be “enacted and enforced in ‘good faith’ and should be used as an opportunity to educate about the use of non-medical masks or face coverings in indoor commercial establishments. Additional education and enforcement will be conducted by health unit staff as well as local municipal bylaw and police officers.”
Exemptions for mask-wearing within commercial establishments include children under two those with developmental disabilities who refuse to wear a mask people who are incapacitated or unable to remove a mask without assistance or for other religious or medical reasons including respiratory disease cognitive difficulties or difficulties in hearing or processing information.
Mandatory mask wearing orders are spreading throughout Canadian cities as the COVID-19 pandemic continues with governments and public health units in Ontario including Toronto Sudbury and Durham region and Quebec issuing orders to residents to wear non-medical face masks on public transit in businesses and indoor spaces beginning this month in an attempt to slow the spread of the disease which globally has infected 11711426 people killing 540572 according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Centre at press time.
Wearing a mask where physical distancing was challenging in Haliburton County had been recommended by the HKPR Health Unit but was still considered voluntary until the announcement which was made hours after a similar decision by the Simcoe-Muskoka District Health Unit.
As of July 7 one person in Haliburton County has an active confirmed case of COVID-19 with nine local cases of the virus resolved since March. Positive cases of residents who are tested in Haliburton County but have a primary residence elsewhere are included in data from their home health unit. In the HKPR region which includes Haliburton County as well as Northumberland and City of Kawartha Lakes 202 cases have been confirmed as of press time with 177 of those cases resolved.
At a June 18 HKPR District Health Unit board of health meeting Mayor of Cobourg John Henderson asked Dr. Lynn Noseworthy the health unit’s medical officer of health if there would be at some point a determination from the board to promote mask wearing as the region was moving into the province’s Phase 2 of reopening. He pointed toward the City of Guelph which had the week before issued an order under the Health Protection and Promotion Act requiring those going into commercial establishments to wear a face covering and said he was receiving many questions on that particular concern.
“With regard to the wearing of masks we’ve been consistent with messaging policy direction from the province and also from the federal government in that the use of masks is currently recommended for the public when they’re out and they’re not able to maintain that six feet of distance from other people or the two metres from other people” said Noseworthy at that time. “The public health messaging that we’re following to date is recommending that people stay home if they’re ill that they wash their hands frequently and thoroughly that they practice physical distancing so staying six feet away from other people when they’re out and about and if they can’t maintain that physical distance that they wear a cloth mask or cloth face covering.”
In an email to the Times last week Noseworthy said “These are the measures that will help keep us all healthy – more so than knowing that someone in your town tested positive.”
She said the public health unit was “monitoring the situation.” Factors that need to be taken into account prior to issuing a Section 22 Class Order – making masks mandatory when visiting businesses – include whether the order is a reasonable approach to the situation if the health unit staff can enforce the order whether all people can tolerate wearing a mask and whether people can afford to purchase masks said Noseworthy last week. She said she was “maintaining alliance with the provincial policy with regard to the use of masks” at that point of time in the June 18 meeting.
To date the province has pushed back on a blanket order mandating masks instead noting that individual health units can make that call. The Ontario.ca website recommends a face covering in particular a “non-medical mask such as a cloth mask” when physical distancing and keeping two metres apart is not possible for example on public transit in smaller grocery stores or pharmacies and when you are receiving essential services.
It also notes that “face coverings will not protect you from getting COVID-19” and recommends instead minimizing errands to a single trip where possible avoiding close contact with others and keeping at least two metres from others outside your household washing hands regularly or using alcohol-based hand sanitizer and practicing proper cough and sneeze etiquette. Children under the age of two anyone who has trouble breathing and anyone unconscious incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance should not wear a mask.
Noseworthy noted in the board of health meeting that as with other policies and decisions made since COVID-19 first started spreading “information has been evolving and policies have been changing.”
For more information about the instructions requiring non-medical mask use or face coverings visit the health unit’s website at www.hkpr.on.ca or call toll-free at 1-866-888-4577 ext. 5020.