By Mira Williamson—
Hastings Prince Edward Public Health (HPEPH) hosted a Facebook Live event Thursday to explain the new mandatory mask policy in enclosed commercial spaces.
The event was led by Dr. Ethan Toumishey, who gave a demonstration on proper mask wearing protocol and spoke about the policy.
HPEPH announced Tuesday that businesses must have policies in place to ensure individuals wear face coverings by noon on Friday. Employees and operators who work in public areas must also wear masks, unless they are behind a barrier like Plexiglass.
HPEPH said they expect to work with municipalities and businesses to enforce mandatory mask policies “in good faith.” The policy will be primarily enforced through reminders and communication, said Dr. Toumishey. As long as businesses provide a verbal reminder, they won’t have to turn a customer away to comply with the policy, said HPEPH. Businesses who do not comply could face fines starting at $750.
Also, some people may not have access to masks or be able to wear them, and they would be exempt, said Dr. Toumishey.
“There is no intention to refuse services or to shame individuals who are unable to wear a mask,” he said.
This policy follows similar regulations recently adapted in cities like Ottawa and Toronto. During the Facebook Live, Dr. Toumishey reiterated that wearing a mask is only one additional measure to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
HPEPH’s face covering requirement only applies to commercial establishments, which does not include places such as schools, childcare centres and places of worship. HPEPH said this was decided by considering the community’s COVID-19 situation, where people can more easily physically distance and where there is a higher volume of foot traffic.
While some residents support the policy, others question the timing, as Hastings and Prince Edward Counties have not had a new confirmed case since May.
Masks are mandatory now because the risk of infection and outbreaks rises as more public spaces open, said HPEPH. Scientific evidence has shown that wearing a mask in an enclosed space is an additional preventative measure to reduce COVID-19’s spread.
Dr. Toumishey was asked if the rise in tourists was a factor behind the introduction of the mask policy. He said HPEPH took into account the stable local situation but recognized that there may be more travel between regions with more COVID-19 cases—though travel is still discouraged..
“That dynamic does inform these instructions,” he said. Changes to the policy will be made based on HPEPH’s observation on the local and regional situation.