Effective July 7, masks must be worn at all indoor public places in the United Counties of Prescott and Russell, the United Counties of Stormont, Dundas, and Glengarry, and the City of Cornwall.

On Monday, July 6, Medical Officers of Health from Eastern Ontario Health Unit (EOHU); Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit; Renfrew County and District Health Unit and Ottawa Public Health announced a regional approach to the use of masks in their respective jurisdictions.

Each public health unit will be invoking a directive under the province’s Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act that requires individuals to wear a mask in certain enclosed public spaces. Under the directive, 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. The EOHU’s Directive takes effect as of July 7 at 12:00 A.M.

Individual municipal councils will not have to pass individual by-laws requiring masks because the directive has been issued under provincial emergency legislation.

Places where masks must be worn by customers and visitors include all retail and government services, restaurants, cultural facilities, sports facilities, places of worship, taxis, and the lobbies and corridors of hotels and motels.

Employees working in those buildings are exempt, as long as they have other distancing and protection measures in place between them and clients.

Transparent face shields do not qualify as masks.

“Wearing a mask or face covering in indoor public spaces accessed by the public adds another level of protection against the spread of COVID-19” stated EOHU Medical Officer of Health Dr. Paul Roumeliotis.  “There is scientific evidence that wearing a mask is an effective way of preventing the spread of COVID-19, and it’s another measure we are adding to our arsenal as we get ready for stage 3 of reopening and back-to-school in the fall,” he added.

The new Directive is in effect as of July 7. However, there will be an enforcement grace period of one week until July 14 at 12:00 A.M. The EOHU will use an educational approach focused on signage in premises, the training of staff on masking policies, and notifying customers of the Directive. The masks or face coverings used will have to securely cover the nose, mouth and chin. Exemptions will be made for individuals who cannot wear a mask due to health concerns or other valid reasons. For more information, please consult the highlights of the EOHU’s Directive for Mandatory Masking in Indoor Public Spaces on the EOHU’s website.

Enforcement of the directive could be enforced by police, municipal by-law officers, or public health inspectors, if necessary, but Roumeliotis said he would prefer to emphasize education and awareness.

Renfrew Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Cushman called mandatory masks “a temporary personal inconvenience.”

Roumeliotis said the need to continue the mandatory mask directive will be reviewed regularly.

“My mask protects you, your mask protects me,” said Roumeliotis, who noted that he has never had so many messages from the public requesting the EOHU take a particular measure as there has been for mandatory masks.

Ottawa Medical Officer of Health Dr. Vera Etches said contact tracing has shown that some people with COVID-19 symptoms are still not following the rules.  “Stay home when you’re sick,” she said.

Roumeliotis, Cushman, Etches, and Leeds-Grenville and Lanark Medical Officer of Health Dr. Paula Stewart noted that mask wearing was initially not considered important when the pandemic began.  They said that research over the past months has shown that masks do indeed reduce the spread of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

Mask Wearing to Complement Other Measures to Limit Spread of COVID-19

Information on proper mask use as well as other tips for protecting yourself against COVID-19 are available on the EOHU’s website at www.EOHU.ca/coronavirus or the Government of Ontario’s website at covid-19.ontario.ca.