By Chad Ingram
The Township of Minden Hills is creating a non-medical mask or facecovering policy that will apply to its employees as well as members ofthe public within municipal facilities.
Councillors discussed thecreation of that policy during a special July 23 meeting councillorsparticipating in the meeting remotely using online conferencing platform Zoom with it broadcast on YouTube.
As a report from township chief administrative officer/clerk Trisha McKibbin indicated as of July 13the Haliburton Kawartha Pine Ridge Health Unit gave instruction thatthe operators of any indoor public spaces or indoor businesses have awritten policy in place regarding the requirement for visitors to wearnon-medical face masks or face coverings amid the ongoing COVID-19pandemic.
The draft policy for Minden Hills reads that allcustomers entering a municipal building are required to wear anon-medical mask or face covering; that all employees are required towear a non-medical mask or face covering while working in a municipalbuilding while interacting with the public; and that
employees and members of the public will be required to wear face masks even if there is a Plexiglas barrier between them.
Further the draft policy states that township employees will wear face masks or coverings while off-site when representing the township and that insituations where it is difficult for employees to maintain physicaldistancing of two metres it is recommended that face coverings be worn.
Exceptions as suggested by the health unit and included in thedraft policy were: a child under the age of two years; a child under the age of five years who cannot be persuaded to wear a mask; someoneunable to remove their mask without assistance; someone “unable to wear a mask for medical reasons such as but not limited to respiratorydisease cognitive difficulties and/or difficulties in hearing orprocessing information. No one is required to disclose a medicalcondition or reason why they are exempt from wearing a mask”; or someone who is “unable to wear a face covering for any religious reason.”
“Implementation of the policy will be enacted and enforced in ‘good faith’ and will beprimarily used as a means to educate people on mask use in publicspaces” the draft policy read. “No one will be denied service if theycan’t wear a mask.”
Councillor Jennifer Hughey wondered what constituted a religious reason and if there were any details around that.
McKibbin explained the language had been taken directly from the health unit’s framework.
“We did not lay out within the policy any specific details of what thatmeans we did just leave it as a general requirement” she said.
Councillor Bob Carter said he thought the policy needed to be amended in a fewways including the denial of entry into municipal facilities for thosewithout face masks and removal of the religious exemption entirely.
“Unfortunately the information or the guidance that we’re getting from the publichealth units seems to be influenced by politics and social sciencesinstead of research and medicine” Carter said. “So we end up being left with a message that is both fragmented and muddled and that the public can’t understand.”
Carter emphasized that a pandemic involving what can be a deadly virus is still happening and that scientific researchindicates face masks can help prevent its spread.
“All researchshows that masks work” he said. “Non-medical masks don’t necessarilyprotect you they’re protecting the people that are around you.”
While there are some legitimate medical reasons people can’t wear face masks Carter said they’re very rare.
“So I agree there are some medical reasons but there are very few medical reasons why somebody cannot wear a mask” he said.
Carter especially took exception to the exemption for reasons of religion.
“ … the religious reasons in particular they’re not science” hesaid adding that most major religions are actively promoting the use of face masks.
“This guidance is not consistent with public healthunits across Ontario” he continued adding that in other health unitjurisdictions religious exemptions only apply when people are withinreligious buildings and partaking in religious ceremonies that requireface masks to be removed.
“It’s not a general hey I’ve got areligious reason I don’t have to wear a mask anywhere” Carter said. “… What religion would say go forth and act recklessly and harm yourfellow human beings on the planet? You know we don’t have religiousexemptions for speeding drunk driving discharging firearms recklessly so that’s completely ludicrous as far as I’m concerned.”
“I wouldthink that this policy should be altered to say that we’ll deny entry to anybody who’s not wearing a mask and we will deal with those on anexceptional basis” Carter said.
The majority of council seemed toagree with Carter’s suggestions and a revised draft of the policy willcome back to the council table.