Today, Medical Officers of Health from the Eastern Ontario Health Unit and those of Leeds, Grenville and Lanark, Renfrew County and Ottawa announced a regional approach to the use of face coverings/masks in enclosed public places within their respective jurisdictions.

Each public health unit will be issuing an Instruction under the province’s Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act Stage 2, which states that the person responsible for a business or organization that is open shall operate the business or organization in compliance with the advice, recommendations and instructions of public health officials, including any advice, recommendations or instructions on physical distancing, cleaning or disinfecting.

In Leeds, Grenville and Lanark, this Instruction will require businesses to adopt a policy to ensure facial coverings/masks are worn inside enclosed public spaces and settings that are openly accessible to the public.

The Instruction comes into effect as of Tuesday, July 7, 2020, at 12:01 am and will be reviewed on September 30, 2020. The LGLDHU, to support the implementation of this Instruction, will provide information and consultation to operators of enclosed indoor spaces. This directive is to be primarily used to educate people on facial covering/mask use in enclosed public spaces where 2-metre physical distancing cannot always be maintained.

In a press conference this afternoon, Dr. Vera Etches from Ottawa Public Health said that exemptions would apply for people unable to wear coverings for physical reasons. She asked people “to be kind” and not judge those not wearing them.

Asked if the regulation would apply to children in daycare or schools she said, “The short answer is no.”

Asked about enforcement of the regulation, Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, Medical Officer of Health for the Eastern Ontario Health Unit, said that the emphasis is on education rather than enforcement, but said that fines could be levied depending on the situation.

He added said that operators of public spaces were not expected to require proof from people claiming to have exemptions, saying he and the other medical officers of health were relying on the “public’s goodwill” to abide by the regulation.

As the province continues to reopen, there are increased opportunities for people to have close contact with others in enclosed public spaces. This could lead to an increased risk of the potential spread of COVID-19, especially indoors or confined spaces where there is minimal airflow, higher concentrations of people, and an increased chance of sharing high-touch surfaces.

Evidence shows that wearing a mask or face covering, such as a bandana, scarf or cloth that covers the mouth and nose, can help contain the spread of COVID-19 when used in combination with staying home when ill, frequent handwashing and practicing physical distancing. Facial coverings/masks that cover your mouth, nose, and chin help to prevent respiratory droplets from your mouth and nose from reaching others or landing on surfaces.

“We have learned over the course of this pandemic that we have to get ahead of the COVID19 virus – it is very infections and can spread easily among people with close contact in enclosed spaces. Most people do not have immunity to COVID-19 and some people may experience no symptoms but still be able to spread the virus,” says Dr. Paula Stewart, Medical Officer of Health.

“We have been recommending the use of face coverings/masks in enclosed indoor spaces for many weeks. With the increase in opportunities for people to be indoors in public spaces with others, now this is the time to add facial covering/mask use to the existing requirements for operators of indoor public spaces. Each person wearing a facial covering/mask says I am protecting you. We all need to reciprocate this behaviour – it is social responsibility.”

The Health Unit has staff answering COVID-19 related questions and concerns for the public from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm every day at 1-800-660-5853 extension 2499. Public Health Inspectors are also available to discuss environmental health concerns.