MOH: order meant to educate not enforce mask wearing

Dr. Ian Arra, Grey-Bruce Medical Officer of Health

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There were no new cases of COVID-19 reported in Grey-Bruce Wednesday, according to the Grey Bruce Health Unit’s daily situation report.

The region’s cumulative reported-case count stands at 115 with 108 cases recovered and six cases referred to other health units.

There is one active case remaining in the region. Medical officer of health Dr. Ian Arra said that the remaining patient should be cleared today.

Arra said the milestone is worth celebrating but doesn’t mean “we are out of the woods yet.” The region’s top doctor said he would assume that there are three to four unidentified cases for every one reported case in the region.

“There will still be a risk of transmission,” he said.

Health units across the province reported 102 cases in Ontario Wednesday, the lowest single-day increase since late March.

As of Friday, most businesses in the region will be expected to use “best efforts” to ensure everyone inside their commercial establishment is wearing a face-covering under the medical officer of health’s official mandatory mask or face-covering order.

However, according to the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) document available at the Grey Bruce Health Unit’s website, there are several reasons a person would be exempt from the order, including feeling too hot.

Furthermore, business owners need to simply offer verbal reminders to clients about the need to wear a face-covering to comply with the order’s standard for “best efforts.”

Grey Bruce’s medical officer of health said business owners are not required to turn away customers or force staff to wear a face-covering under the order.

Staff members and customers do not need to provide a medical note or any further explanation or proof to be exempt from the health unit’s order.

“The main goal is to provide education and create awareness,” Arra said. “There is no need to go to the heavy-handed approach, and there is a second reason not to, namely the success we’ve had here.”

Arra said public health officials debated needing people to provide a medical note to prove they are unable to wear a mask but decided it wouldn’t be prudent to further tax the healthcare system.

There are several exemptions listed in the order. Children under five years of age are exempt. Those with medical conditions preventing them from wearing a mask are exempt, and those who would have their breathing impacted in any way from wearing a mask are exempted from the region’s order.

A person can declare it’s too hot to wear a mask and exempted from the order. According to the health unit’s FAQ document, heat-related health effects are included in the medical reasons one would be exempt from the order.

Arra said the wide variety of exemptions were made to make the order less intrusive as enforcement was never the goal. He said if the order results in 60 to 70 per cent of residents wearing face-coverings inside local businesses he considers that a good result.

He also noted staff are not trained in enforcement and should not be forced to escalate any potential confrontations because of the public health order. He said business owners and staff should simply use the order as a tool to remind customers of the need to wear a face-covering inside their establishment.

When the face-covering order comes into effect Friday, business owners need to give verbal reminders to customers about the need to wear a face covering, and verbal reminders to those seen removing their face covering for extended periods while inside the premises, to reach the “best-effort” standard of the order.

There are also a host of exemptions resulting from jurisdictional overlap that has resulted in many locations left off the region’s order.

Churches, day camps, daycare centres and schools are exempt from the Grey Bruce Health Unit’s order because they are covered under provincial regulations.

Municipal and county facilities are exempt, as are professional offices, hospitals and independent health facilities that are regulated through their own protocols and policies.

Public transportation and transportation services are exempt from the Grey Bruce Health Unit order because they are either under municipal control or cross over jurisdictional boundaries “making it impractical and confusing to the public,” the FAQ document reads.

As for the locations covered under the order – retail stores, malls, farmer’s markets, gas stations, cinemas and more – only parts of the listed establishments are covered under the order. For example, people must wear a face-covering inside the gas station’s kiosk or storefront, but not at the pump area. People in line inside the coffee shop must wear a face covering, but those in a kitchen area that is physically separated from the dining area are exempt. At the gym, a person will be asked to wear a mask at the reception area, but not while using equipment or while in an exercise class, according to the order.

Arra said these exemptions were made to make the order as practical as possible. Someone running on a treadmill may be at high risk for transmission of the virus, but wearing a mask while exercising may be impossible. He said it’s up to the individual to evaluate the risk in these exempted scenarios and act accordingly.

Arra said Monday during a Public Health Grey Bruce Business Information Session that it “boggles his mind” why anyone would choose not to wear a mask in most situations as it’s a safe, easy and effective measure in preventing transmission of the virus.

“It’s not there to penalize you, it’s there to protect you,” he said during the session.