Love them or hate them, you have to get used to wearing a mask

GUELPH – You might not like wearing a face mask, but get used to it, says public health.

“I would like to say it will be a short time, but the reality is, the need for masking will be with us for quite some time,” Dr. Nicola Mercer, medical officer of health for Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health, told the board of health at its meeting on July 8.

Mercer said the coronavirus is spread by droplets and can be as easily spread by people with symptoms as those who are asymptomatic. Wearing a mask or face covering contains those droplets and protects those around you.

Until there is a cure or a vaccine, masks, physical distancing and hand hygiene will have to be exercised, she said.

Mercer issued a Section 22 order making it mandatory to wear masks in indoor settings, to coincide with the Stage 2 re-opening in the region. It is a measure to protect staff at businesses as they re-open and the population at large as they begin to mix and socialize more. Masks add an extra layer of protection from the virus, on top of physical distancing and careful hand hygiene.

Now four weeks in, Mercer acknowledged that not everyone is on board with the order, but most are complying. And it’s not just vindicating but reassuring that neighbouring health units and municipalities are issuing similar orders.

Hamilton, Halton, Kitchener, Peel, Toronto – all regions skirting Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph and all regions with high incidents of COVID-19 – are currently considering or have just passed, bylaws mandating masks or face coverings.

Mercer said she exercised her power to issue a mandatory face-covering order because it could be done swiftly and there were only a few days between the province announcing Stage 2 re-opening and it coming into effect. Passing a bylaw requires a municipal council to debate and then agree to such a measure and can take many weeks or even months.

She said in some ways a bylaw “is a more democratic approach. People who are elected can comment and decide. A Section 22 can easily be challenged.”

But between Guelph, Wellington County and Dufferin County, there are some 19 separate municipal councils. The Section 22 order covers the entire geography of the health unit.

“Speed was of the essence,” agreed George Bridge, chair of the board and mayor of Minto, who also sits on Wellington County Council.

“What we did at the county was issue the mayors’ proclamation, supporting your decision. We’ll have to learn to live with the masks. It’s to protect someone else, so when you don’t wear one, you are not the person taking the risk.”

In an email interview after the board meeting, Wellington County Warden Kelly Linton said with Dr. Mercer’s order in place, there is no need for a bylaw as well.

“I know some municipalities are choosing to go the bylaw route, but I see no reason that Wellington County has to do this. We were one of the first regions in Ontario to require mandatory masks in indoor commercial establishments, and we did this by issuing a county order that supports Dr. Mercer’s order. I see no need for the county to do anything else. Our mask order is doing what we intended it to do – stop the spread of COVID-19 by increasing the percentage of people wearing masks.” Linton wrote.