By Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express
Durham Region has made it mandatory for non-medical masks and face coverings to be worn in indoor places accessible to the public.
Beginning Friday, July 10, non-medical masks or face coverings will be mandatory in most public and enclosed spaces, according to a statement from the region’s health department.
However, those with health, respiratory and sensory issues, or various disabilities, do not have to wear a mask in public.
Those who are unable to remove masks without assistance, as well as children under the age of two, also don’t have to wear a mask or a face covering.
Masks will be mandatory in commercial establishments, according to the statement from the region. This includes retail and convenience stores, malls, enclosed farmers’ markets, libraries, community centres, and businesses open to the public.
Business owners are also required to implement a policy for the use of non-medical masks or face-coverings. This will give them the discretion to refuse entry to those not covering their face.
A mask doesn’t need to be worn at home with immediate family members, while eating on a restaurant patio, or in a workplace where other standards such as the Occupational Health and Safety Act are in place.
Speaking with The Oshawa Express, Durham’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Kyle explains his decision was made due to a number of factors.
“We are exiting the first wave. Our numbers in Durham Region are very good. We think it’s the time to start turning our attention to either preventing or minimizing the second wave,” explains Kyle.
He notes Public Health has been “strongly recommending” the use of face coverings or the use of non-medical masks, particularly when physical distancing is not possible.
Ultimately, the region is hoping to preserve the gains made since the pandemic began, and supplement public health messaging with respect to mask use, he explains.
“We want to create a culture that makes it safe. We are expected to wear masks in indoor settings during this pandemic, particularly in the run up to the fall when more and more venues will be opened,” he says.
He also notes the region is mindful of events in the United States surrounding COVID-19, as the country has seen 2.93 million cases, and approximately 132,000 deaths from the virus.
Canada itself has seen 106,000 cases, and 8,687 deaths. Oshawa has seen 268 cases, with 23 deaths, and 244 resolved.
However, he says there’s a “general acceptance” in Durham Region of the need to wear masks.
“It’s not uniform, but certainly the majority,” he explains. “We’re mindful of actions taken in Toronto, being contemplated in Peel and York… so I think all of those considerations lead to this decision.”
For those unable to get a mask, Kyle says there are multiple ways to cover one’s face without one.
“Bandanas, scarves, that sort of thing. On our website, we have instructions on how to make masks,” says Kyle. “We’re cognisant that not everybody has access to, or can even afford a mask or face covering.”
Kyle notes the region doesn’t feel the need to be heavy handed if residents refuse to wear a mask, and says the “onus is on businesses” to use their discretion in setting up policies for mask use.
“I don’t think there is going to be harsh repercussions. I think that we will continue to respond to complaints that we have received,” he says.
Kyle isn’t the only one in Durham who believes the use of masks or face coverings is warranted, as Oshawa Mayor Dan Carter says wearing a mask is a very effective way to contain the spread of COVID-19.
“[Wearing a mask] is what we’ve been recommending for everybody,” says Carter.
The mayor notes he is in the “high risk category” as he easily contracts colds and the flu.
“For me, it works really, really well,” says Carter. “But I’ve also heard other people that have breathing issues find it difficult to breathe when they’ve got a mask.”
Ultimately, Carter says he is looking at the “best practices” around the world, and saying, “What is the best way forward?”
He continues by praising the Oshawa community in regards to following guidelines and making sure they don’t gather in large groups, while also respecting people’s space.
“I’m proud of our community, and I think our community will do the right thing in regards to protecting their health and safety,” he says.
Carter reiterates he will wear a mask in public, and that’s a decision he makes in regards to the health and safety of his family.
For more information on how to cover your face, visit durham.ca/novelcoronavirus.