Face masks will be mandatory in most public indoor spaces in Waterloo Region as of Monday, as council this week unanimously approved new measures to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
You’ll be required to wear a mask that covers your mouth, nose and chin when entering locations such as retail stores, coffee shops and theatres, as well as when using public transit. The new rules go into effect July 13.
The move follows advice from health officials, based on the fact COVID-19 spreads mainly from person-to-person through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks. Droplets can travel up to two metres (six feet).
“Making masks mandatory is yet another tool to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our community,” said regional Chair Karen Redman, noting the two bylaws approved Monday night will remain in effect through September 30.
“It was really important for regional council to have an end-date because we recognize that what this bylaw was trying to do is strike a balance between two very entrenched points of view, one that was pro mask-wearing and one that felt the science didn’t support it. … We needed an end-date. September 30, is the same ending the Toronto bylaw has, but it should be made very clear that council has the ability to extend that: we just wanted a marker in time where we would examine it and discussed many things that can be looked at. Obviously, we’ll talk to our medical officer of health and get input from them. We will look at what the province is doing.”
While the bylaw allows for fines of up to $1,000, the focus will be on educating the public, she added.
Businesses will be required to post signs indicating masks are obligatory, but enforcement will be left to the region. The list of spots where face-coverings are required include malls, places of worship, lobbies of commercial buildings, professional service areas, hotels and motels, laundromats, indoor arenas, indoor theatres and concert venues, arcades and municipal buildings.
A second bylaw also applies to public transit, including Grand River Transit stations, shelters as well as ION trains and platforms. The GRT will be providing an estimated 40,000 masks to riders, some of which are disposable and some reusable. The handout ensures people that may be put into vulnerable tight areas such as a bus, where it remains extremely difficult to keep six feet of separation.
In a video briefing Tuesday, acting medical officer of health Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang praised council’s decision.
“I am supportive of the new bylaw, requiring face coverings in enclosed public places and on public transit. The bylaws further support my strong recommendation that people wear masks, and physical distancing is a challenge, especially in enclosed indoor settings and on public transit. I continue to recommend that residents follow the other public health measures as a must: physical distancing where we can practice it, proper hand hygiene, self-isolating and getting tested if we develop symptoms. Together with face coverings, or masks these measures will help slow the spread of COVID-19 in our community,” she said.
For those who cannot wear a mask, face shields are now considered appropriate. People unable to wear a mask are not required to disclose any medical information and cannot be denied entry to a location. The bylaw also exempts children under the age of five.
While the regional rules are in effect until the end of September, there’s a good possibility the date will be extended, Redman suggested. That said, if the province came up with face-covering legislation of its own, it would supersede any municipal bylaws.
“There’s a lot of moving parts to this. We will absolutely be monitoring public health, the incidents of community spread. But it’s really important to keep reiterating that we are not through this pandemic until we have a vaccine or a cure. So, this could be many months, depending on whose crystal ball you’re believing when people look at the modelling, said Redman.
Information on facial covering best practices and specifics from the bylaw are available on the Region of Waterloo’s website.