Mandatory wearing of face masks: ‘It’s becoming our new second nature’


The feelers have been out there for some time now, and last week’s interview with Dr. Joyce Lock, Southwestern Public Health medical officer of health, confirmed the wearing of face masks in enclosed public places was soon to be mandatory in this COVID-19 marathon.
Dr. Lock sealed the deal via a teleconference Thursday (July 30).
There are those who will argue this should have been done back in the spring as the pandemic embers flared into a full-blown blaze.
Our neighbour to the north made the wearing of face coverings compulsory exactly two weeks ago, so why the lag time in the health unit’s watershed?
Dr. Lock touched on that last week noting, “we’re working step in step with our municipal partners to make it as simple a process as possible for individuals, businesses and organizations across our geography.”

Like the opening of all beaches in Elgin on June 22, the effectiveness would have been jeopardized if they were not opened in a coordinated fashion.
The same with the wearing of face masks, it can’t be mandatory here and not in Port Stanley.Dr. Joyce Lock

No doubt the dramatic spike in confirmed COVID-19 cases in East Elgin accelerated the need to dip into the medical took kit for further precautionary measures.
Hard to imagine just over two weeks ago there were a mere two ongoing cases in the health unit’s coverage area. As of yesterday (July 31), there were 40 in St. Thomas and Elgin county alone, of which 35 are in Aylmer and Bayham.
So on Thursday, Dr. Lock issued a letter of instruction “for all businesses and organizations to implement policies that require face coverings in enclosed public spaces.”
As to the nature of a face covering, Dr. Lock stressed they must be worn properly “and cover the mouth, nose and chin . . . and wearing one does not replace physical distancing.”
There is a one-week period of grace for businesses and organizations to develop a plan and train staff and that must be in place by Aug. 6.
Dr. Lock continued, “Southwestern Public Health is recommending municipalities pass bylaws that cover the requirements in the letter of instruction.
“It is important that our region has a united and consistent approach to face coverings.
“It is our hope the community will share the responsibility of containing COVID-19 by following these policies.”
As for enforcing the policy, Dr. Lock stressed the health unit is taking an education first approach.
“However we will also work with local enforcement officers for any individuals or businesses that do not comply, which can carry a fine.”

“They do need to take it back to their local councils and I’m sure it will be discussed there but the general sense was of support.”

But, she noted, the health unit is starting with a period of grace and then a period of education and then the hammer may drop.
“After that period, there will be the option for enforcement by municipal bylaw officers or police and the fine for an individual may be anywhere in the range of $750 up to $100,000. With corporations, it may be up to $10 million for each day or part of each day for which the offence occurs or continues.
“Anyone who does not comply with the letter of instruction could face a fine after they have had sufficient education.”
As to municipalities supporting the letter of instruction through the passing of a local bylaw, Dr. Lock advised, “We had a meeting this week with all the municipalities and, in general, the conversation was supportive.
“They do need to take it back to their local councils and I’m sure it will be discussed there but the general sense was of support.”
The order covers children as young as two years of age whereas an order in London mandates children 12 or older and Dr. Lock explained the different approaches, “We reviewed the letters of instruction from health units across the province and the majority chose the age of two.
“We also know children can transmit the virus to others and so including them was also important and we also know, in general, children above two are able to safely wear a mask.”

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A city bylaw supporting the health unit’s introduction of mandatory face masks in all public indoor spaces likely will be before council at its next meeting.
Speaking with city manager Wendell Graves on Friday (July 31) he advised, “We would anticipate having some information to council for the Aug. 10 meeting so they can consider whether they want to do that or not.

“I think everyone’s priority is to reinforce the direction of Southwestern Public Health with positive messaging and not even have to go near writing tickets.”

“We’re working co-operatively with all the municipalities throughout Elgin so that, as much as possible, we can parallel each other, realizing residents move from one municipality to another and it would be nice to have some commonality in all of that.”
Graves continued, “Because this is a letter of instruction from Southwestern Public Health to all the municipal partners, both in Elgin and Oxford, there’s good basis for trying to have some common practices around it.”
If council does choose to have a supporting bylaw in place, Graves indicated it would be enforced through the city’s bylaw enforcement officers and city police.
As for penalties due to non-compliance Graves added, “Any municipal bylaw would be our domain to establish what we would call set fines.
“I think as much as we could, we try and do as much of that in common with our partnering municipalities as we can.”
He continued, “I think everyone’s priority is to reinforce the direction of Southwestern Public Health with positive messaging and not even have to go near writing tickets.”
And, Graves reminded that businesses also have a role to play with the wearing of face masks in their shops and outlets, not only by customers and clients but also by employees.
“This is about businesses that they would comply with the requirements of Southwestern Public Health.”
St. Thomas Mayor Joe Preston indicated the passing of a local bylaw in support of the health unit’s direction “gives the bylaw officers teeth to enforce and so I think it is simply a matter of us writing a bylaw to make it happen.
“Municipalities have been well involved in the process with Dr. Lock from an advisory point of view and there is a bylaw template that I’m hoping we’ll all use so were all doing exactly the same thing.
Preston feels it is not necessary to call an emergency meeting of council at this time and the regularly scheduled meeting on Aug. 10 will suffice for discussion on a bylaw.
“Dr. Lock has given her order which has enforcement abilities, but from a long-term point of view, bylaw officers will need something that will be able to help with that.”
And any penalties included in the bylaw would be in step with those outlined by the health unit.
“St. Thomas hasn’t fined anyone for anything and I don’t see us doing that during this either because cooperation has been quite good in St. Thomas and I hope to keep it that way.
“But, this is going to put some onus back on businesses that I really don’t want to put on them. I really want the community, the people, to take the onus on this and say, ‘I’m going to do what’s right.'”
Preston noted, as a business operator himself, “I don’t want to be the face mask police. I really want it to happen because people respect their community.”
Preston compared the mandatory implementation of face masks to smoking restrictions in public places.
“Most of the onus had to be on the business owner because bylaw officers aren’t standing there all the time. It did work 100 per cent on communication. no mask no service

“And, the same thing will happen with this . . . It’s becoming our new second nature. Hopefully, it’s as easy as that.”
It’s alarming to note in the Wild West of social media that the conspiracy element of society threatens to boycott businesses that enforce the face mask ruling.
It’s our body and our right not to wear one, you’re trampling on our personal freedom is their mantra.
We’ve all seen those signs at businesses that advise, No Shirts, No Shoes, No Service.
Haven’t heard a whimper from these personal rights rebels on that one.
Commenting on LinkedIn regarding last week’s item on mandatory wearing of facemasks in St. Thomas, Gary Baker has a concise word of advice for Mayor Joe Preston.
“Come on Joe, we have had it since Day 1 in Guelph, and it works!”
And, no doubt the same will be true in St. Thomas and Elgin county.

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And a reminder, I can be heard weekday afternoons as news anchor and reporter on 94.1 myFM in St. Thomas. As always, your comments and input are appreciated.


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