The agenda for city council’s Monday meeting released last week indicated council was to receive an update on the Corona-19 virus from Dr. Jennifer Loo, associate medical officer of health with Algoma Public Health.
As you won’t be reading this until after the meeting, I am hopeful that council will have gone a step further, that rather than simply hearing the update that it will at least have had some discussion regarding the mandatory use of face masks in this community.
APH announced last week that businesses and organizations must adopt a policy that requires people to wear a mask or face covering in enclosed public spaces such as businesses or organizations, as well as public transit, effective July 17.
The reason I am looking to council getting involved is that the APH policy really has no teeth. It doesn’t appear to be enforceable.
That thought was not lost on Dr. Penny Sutcliffe, medical officer of health at Public Health Sudbury and Districts, who had previously offered the new rules there under the authority of the Provincial Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act, the same act APH is using to back up its policy initiative.
A story in The Sudbury Star said, “Under the requirement, most commercial establishments that are ‘openly accessible to members of the public,’ including malls, convenience stores, restaurants, and taxis, must create a no-mask, no-service policy.”
But there was a kicker.
“At the same time,” the story indicated, “they will not necessarily be required to enforce it.”
“There aren’t any face-covering police anywhere, whether you’re talking about Ottawa, Windsor, Kingston, or Sudbury,” said Dr. Sutcliffe.
“It is mandatory for commercial establishments to have a policy in place, but we are relying on good faith and best effort enactment and enforcement.”
In short, it is mandatory for an establishment to have a policy in place in regard to the wearing of masks; it is not mandatory that the establishment turn someone away who is not wearing a face covering. .
The Sudbury Star story also said, “a number of local establishments have gone full tilt with the new policy, establishing manned stations at front entrances to inform the public and ask that they wear a face mask when they enter the building.
“On the other hand, some establishments have posted policies on their windows, but they aren’t doing much – if anything at all – to uphold the new rules.”
I can see some businesses not buying in because I went through the act the Algoma and Sudbury health agencies are using as their authority, and I can’t see anything in it that would give them the power to even institute such a policy, let alone enforce it.
That, from what I can see, has to be done through a bylaw passed by a community’s council, which is as it should be. There is no way a health unit should be given the power to make such a dictate..
Toronto recently passed a bylaw requiring the use of masks in indoor settings and such bylaws are also in effect in Mississauga, Brampton, Caledon and Durham Region and York Region.
Timmins and Halton Region councils were to discuss instituting such bylaws this week.
I think a news release from the City of Toronto regarding its decision to go with a Covid-19 bylaw spells out how the procedure to get something in place should play out.
There, the news release said, council “heeded advice from the medical officer of health, who recommended city council use its authority to legislate for the protection of the health, safety and well-being of persons in Toronto to enact a temporary bylaw requiring businesses and facilities to have a policy that ensures masks or face coverings are worn by the public in the enclosed spaces under their control to prevent a resurgence of Covid-19 cases.”
That is what should have taken place here and in Sudbury.
All of the various bylaws and orders exempt younger children and anyone with an underlying medical condition that makes it difficult for them to wear a mask.
“We believe this (the mandatory wearing of masks) is critical for the reopening. If we want to get to Stage 3 we have to get our numbers down and all the top medical officials are saying this is the tool to do it.” Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown told CP24 on Friday. “We are going to be encouraging compliance and if there are instances where people are intentionally ignoring the warning and intentionally ignoring the advice of medical professionals then absolutely we are going to lay fines.”
The laying of fines could not be done under the policies put forth by the Sault and Sudbury health units.
The Sudbury Star polled the community, asking whether wearing a face mask in public should become mandatory. More than 1,000 people responded to the poll, with more than 50 percent of the community saying no and 40 percent saying yes.
I think this shows why a bylaw is needed. A lot of businesses and their clients aren’t going to pay all that much attention to a toothless policy initiated by a health agency.
We have been lucky in the Algoma District, having had only 25 people test positive and 24 of those having been resolved.
I think we should all be working to keep it that way and one of the ways to do it is by the wearing of masks in crowded situations.
No doubt Premier Doug Ford should come out with a provincial initiative mandating the use of face masks but since he so far has not been inclined to do so, we will have to look to our council.
After all, it is obvious from so many people in this community not wearing masks when they are visiting retail outlets that we aren’t going to do it on our own.