Issues with mandatory masks and a new regional health order aimed at farms which employ migrant workers highlighted a COVID-19 update by the Eastern Ontario Health Unit on Friday, July 10.

In a Zoom online update Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, Medical Officer of Health for the EOHU, addressed concerns about the health unit’s mandatory mask order, noting that while cases in the region remain at a low level, the use of masks will help to keep it that way.

“The important thing here is we want to get people used to (wearing masks). Right now we have a bit of a grace period and we are going to be moving forward with our education-first approach and not judge people,” Roumeliotis said. “The higher the percentage of people masking, the better the ability to prevent future COVID illness.”

Roumeliotis also addressed reports of conflicts between businesses and customers who refuse to wear the masks in indoor public spaces, as well as confusion over the regulations. He noted that the region remains under the one-week grace period for mask wearing and that the impetus behind the order is prevention of the disease, rather than draconian enforcement of the rules.

“What we want is for the clerk to remind the individual that you should be wearing a mask,” Roumeliotis stressed, adding the EOHU does not expect store clerks and business owners to be the mask police. “If they say I can’t because I have asthma or anything like that, at this point I would say OK, you’ve done your job, just ensure that individual is physically distancing from others.

“We’re asking for policies to be in place; we’re asking for signs to be up; we’re asking those type of things – we’re not asking for people to reject them from going in or to actually have a legal obligation to tell patrons to wear a mask if they don’t want to wear a mask. We’re not going to fine anyone but if we see that the store or business owners don’t have the protocols in place in a repetitive fashion, then there could be fines.”

The EOHU press conference also addressed a new public health order on July 10 aimed at farms in the region which employ migrant farm workers. Among other things, the order requires that all Temporary Foreign Workers remain isolated for 14 days from the date of their arrival. The full order can be viewed online Here.

Several other topics were also addressed in the EOHU’s online July 10 update, including the return of students to area schools in September. The complete update can be found on the EOHU’s YouTube channel Here.

The total number of confirmed cases in the EOHU Catchment Area as of July 10 stood at 166, with 151 resolved, 11 deaths and 2 currently hospitalized. There are no active intensive care unit cases in the region.

Full local statistics and all updates on COVID-19 can be found on the EOHU website.