Masks now required inside public spaces
Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit’s medical officer of health has said that as of Monday, face coverings will be required in all indoor public spaces in the region.
Dr. Charles Gardner announced Tuesday, during his weekly media briefing, there is growing evidence that non-medical masks and face coverings are one more way that people can slow the spread of COVID-19.
He said the health unit won’t be taking a heavy handed approach to enforcement, but rather an educative and supportive one. He said officials are hoping for buy-in from businesses and their patrons with the hopes of achieving a compliance rate of 80 per cent or more, which would go a long way to hopefully stave off a resurgence of the virus and the unwanted consequence of having to close up shop once more.
People will be required to wear a non-medical mask such as a homemade cloth mask, buff, scarf or bandana, when entering businesses, organizations and public transit systems in Simcoe Muskoka. (A face shield is not considered an appropriate substitute.) There are exemptions for religious practices, medical conditions and age – no one under the age of two should wear a mask.
Businesses are being instructed to put in place a policy requiring the masks be worn, but will not necessarily be forced to eject people who refuse to comply.
“As we move through the stages of the reopening of the economy there is an increased risk of resurgence of COVID-19 transmission in our communities. Locally we are seeing more visitors from other parts of the province with a much higher incidence of COVID-19, resulting in crowding in public spaces, and this has us concerned,” said Gardner in a press release.
“There is emerging evidence that suggests the spread of COVID-19 can be reduced with a high level of compliance of non-medical mask use by the public. As well, we have a great deal of support for the use of face coverings in indoor public spaces from municipalities, physicians and hospitals, and other community partners.”
The health unit has prepared instructions for businesses and organizations under the provincial Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act (EMCPA), with the expectation that they use their “best efforts” requiring the public to wear face coverings, including the use of signs and verbal reminders. There is no requirement, however, that a business turn away a customer who is not wearing a face covering.
Although health officials say they are taking a “softer approach,” the instructions come with heavy fines for individuals of $750 to $1,000 (up to a maximum of $100,000), while corporations could face fines of up to $10,000,000 for each day of offence, should they be imposed.
“Our businesses and organizations that are open to the public have worked diligently to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and many already ask that patrons and clients wear a face covering,” said Gardner. “Requiring the public to wear a face covering is an extra step to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission, and is key for the continued successful reopening of the local economy and to safeguard our residents against the virus in circulation now, into the fall and beyond.”
In other COVID-19 news, Gardner said cases are now declining once more and there are no institutional outbreaks in the region. The outbreak at Stayner Care Centre, which involved only one staff member, was declared over on July 6.
He had expressed concern about a slight uptick in local cases but stats show cases are on the decline once again.
“On the whole we are doing much better,” said Gardner.
This week, Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit is reporting its 609th case, up seven from the week before. Only 30 of those are in Muskoka. The total number of recovered cases has reached 547. Four people are in hospital, and no new deaths have been reported this week.
For more information about COVID-19, including frequently asked questions and signage for businesses, seewww.smdhu.org or call Health Connection at 705-721-7520 or 1-877-721-7520.