Public Health Refines Mask Policy Ahead of Stage 3 Re-opening

As you may have heard, Guelph is entering Stage 3 of the provincial opening along with much of the rest of Ontario. New rules about what can be open and when now means amending the rules for the wearing of masks, and in advance of Friday’s Stage 3 re-opening, the Medical Officer of Health for Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph has updated her directive to reflect this new phase of things.

“Safely reopening our economy is an important step,” said Dr. Nicola Mercer in a statement. “As we reopen, we must remain vigilant for any increase in cases and each do our part to prevent any spread of COVID-19.”

The original order under Section 22 of the Health Protection and Promotion Act was posted in advance of Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph entering Stage 2 on June 12. This region was the first to initiate a mandatory mask order in Ontario, and it’s a move that has since been repeated in many towns and cities across the province. For Stage 3, the updated order clarifies language on the order around exemptions, and the specific circumstances and areas in commercial establishments where a mask is required.

For instance, face coverings are required for any areas where customers interact with each other, or with staff members, and any area that’s open and accessible to the public. What’s the difference? For example, people who work in retail stores must wear a mask while out on the sales floor, but staff lounges, stock rooms, and other areas not accessed by the public are not covered by the order. Out in public, people will be allowed to talking off their masks if they are eating and drinking, exercising or taking part in other physically strenuous activities, or taking part in an activity where a face covering can become wet.

Another new addition to the order is Part 1 (d): “The obligation to provide reasonable accommodation under the Ontario Human Rights Code requires exemption from this requirement.” The meaning for this proviso may be routed in this media release from the Canadian Constitution Foundation a few weeks ago.

“We are concerned that communities like Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph are imposing mandatory mask orders that are too broad and violate Charter guaranteed rights to liberty, the right against discrimination based on disability, and the right to privacy,”said CCF litigation director Christine Van Geyn in a statement. “Orders like these must be narrowly tailored so that both the safety and the rights of Canadians are protected.”

Van Geyn, in an undated letter to Dr. Mercer, made the point that individual rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms may be violated by making people disclose invisible disabilities with strangers in order to enter a shop or business, which places a “disproportionate burden” on people with disabilities as opposed to those without disabilities.

“There are people who cannot wear a mask due to a respiratory illness or a psychological trauma associated with having a breathing obstruction,” Van Geyn added. “For obvious reasons, if a person has PTSD related to having their breathing obstructed, they should not need to discuss this with strangers in order to buy toilet paper or fill up their gas tank.”

While some people have legitimate concerns about the rules around masks, public health is also raising the alarm that there are people passing off a “face mask exemption card” as legitimate and legal documentation. The cards feature official looking symbols including something that looks like it could be the logo for the Red Cross, and are allegedly being sold online by so-called anti-maskers.

“These cards are NOT real and not needed. No proof is required for an exemption from face coverings,” WDG Public Health said on social media. “Public Health is not asking businesses to check or require documentation and no official exemption documentation has been developed and is not needed.”

“This isn’t the time to use fraudulent cards to get into a store. Be responsible, don’t be a scammer,” said Premier Doug Ford at this press conference on Wednesday. “To say that you can’t wear a mask and make up some fraudulent card is unacceptable in my opinion. Everyone else is wearing a mask when they go into stores, but as far as I’m concerned it’s totally unacceptable.”

As of Thursday morning, public health was monitoring 16 active cases of COVID-19 out of 498 total confirmed cases of the virus. One new case has identified in the last 24 hours, and there have been 37 total fatalities, which is a number’s that remained unchanged for nearly a month.

Having said that, Dr. Mercer reminds everyone that this forward progress does not mean that the pandemic is over.

“We must continue to balance health protection with economic progress in order to continue moving forward together,” Mercer said. “Each of us can continue to be there for each other by washing our hands, using hand sanitizer, maintaining physical distancing of two metres, and wearing a face covering where required. We all have a role to play as our region safely takes another step forward.”

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