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Region to discuss making masks mandatory

Health officials are considering making face masks mandatory in public, an issue that will be discussed next week at a special session of regional council.

The council debate follows last week’s virtual town hall at which the region sought input from the business community. Acting medical officer of health Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang addressed the many comments, questions and concerns raised at the hour-long meeting.

“There’s been a lot of discussions recently about the wearing of masks in business settings, due to an order issued by the medical officer of health in Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph (WDG) to business owners [and] operators to enforce the wearing of masks among their patrons. This has led to people who have expressed opinions for and against a similar order,” said Wang.

While regional health official have recommended the use of facial coverings, they had not made masks mandatory, at least thus far. Wang had previously noted such a move would put all on the onus for enforcement on store owners  and employees.

“I am in support of policies that promote the broad adoption of the recommended public health practices and business settings.”

Two main areas likely to be covered by mandatory mask-wearing include shopping and public transit. The details of a regional bylaw remain unknown at this point, however.

The particulars will help shape Woolwich Mayor Sandy Shantz’s vote on the matter.

“I want to see the bylaw. It could be broad, or it could be specific … in how it applies the rules,” she said Tuesday, noting she would prefer that people simply took the right steps, including wearing masks in public, of their own accord.

Given the effectiveness of masks, wearing them is a good way to protect each other, she added, pointing to the community’s most vulnerable members as a particular concern.

“They are fearful – they also want to get groceries, and they want to live their lives like we do,” said Shantz of those most susceptible to the virus.

A bylaw mandating the wearing of masks would be the culmination of steps to encourage their use. Last month, regional chief administrative officer Mike Murray noted masks were being discussed as part of plans to broaden transit services.

Region of Waterloo Public Health did launch a social media campaign entitled #facemaskfriday, which appears to have generated few results.

At last week’s virtual town hall, the region had little pushback against the possibility of mandatory face coverings.

Business owners expressed concerns about addressing the new measures in the face of the ongoing struggles, but they were receptive to region’s idea of providing signs outlining denial of entrance to locations if masks are not worn.

Wang explained that business owners and operators would not have to provide facial coverings to employees, as it was expected that the employees provide their own. The same sentiment applies to retail locations, which will not have to provide masks.

Addressing the issue of masks and hearing-impaired/deaf residents, she noted face shields would be a useful substitute. People have been known to make face masks with plastic covering in the middle to allow for the reading of lips.

Regional council will discuss making masks mandatory in a special session July 6.

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