Kitchener-Waterloo

Face covering bylaws extended in Waterloo region

The Region of Waterloo's face covering bylaws should stay in place as long as masks are mandated under the province's Reopening Ontario Act, the region's committee of the whole recommended Tuesday.

Bylaws to be revisited when face covering rules under Reopening Ontario Act revoked

A person sitting on bench wearing sunglasses soaks up the sun in Feb. 8, 2021. The Region of Waterloo's committee of the whole has recommended extending local mask bylaws. (Brian Morris/CBC)

The Region of Waterloo's face covering bylaws should stay in place as long as masks are mandated under the province's Reopening Ontario Act, the region's committee of the whole recommended Tuesday.

"It's pretty clear that masks are effective," said regional councillor Tom Galloway, who supported the recommendation.

"They are not a panacea — no one ever said they would be a panacea — but they are effective in reducing the rate of transmission and we need to continue to employ them as one of our measures in dealing with the pandemic."

The region's bylaws require wearing face coverings on transit and in indoor public places, such as grocery stores, restaurants and shopping malls. They do not apply to children under the age of five, or to people who can't wear masks because of a disability or a medical condition.      

The bylaws were set to expire May 31 of this year. However, a report by regional staff noted the conditions council agreed to for repealing the bylaws have not yet been met.

Those conditions are:

  • An improvement in the state of the local, provincial and global situation.
  • A change in evidence or advice from public health officials regarding the wearing of face coverings or masks.
  • The availability of an effective vaccine and/or treatment for COVID-19.

The report notes that while "COVID-19 vaccines are available, broad community distribution and uptake will take time and public health experts continue to recommend face coverings."

Delegations

The Tuesday committee meeting included delegations from more than a dozen people who opposed the mask bylaws. Some questioned the science of wearing masks and whether it helps prevent the spread of COVID-19.

"It is just a piece of cloth, it's a symbol of obedience, it's not going to stop the virus," said delegate Sheryl Gatzke.

According to an evidence synthesis from Public Health Ontario, which was cited in the regional report, wearing masks in public is considered a beneficial way to protect others from COVID-19. Public Health Ontario also noted regions with mandatory public mask policies have seen decreases in COVID-19 cases compared to regions without such policies.

Regional councilor Sandy Shantz said while she doesn't love to wear a mask, she knows they are a necessary measure to curb the spread of COVID-19 and preserve hospital capacity.

"It's about keeping the system viable so that when grandma has a heart attack and has to be hospitalized, there's not someone there making a decision whether she gets a bed or a treatment," said Shantz. "It's not just about COVID, it's about the whole system."

Regional councillor Helen Jowett agreed.

"If we can prevent someone's death or extreme illness, I hope that's what we choose," she said.

While the regional staff report had initially recommended extending the mask bylaws until Dec. 31, 2021, the committee instead opted to recommend extending the bylaws until the face covering requirements under the Reopening Ontario Act are revoked.

At that point, the regional bylaws would return to council for review.

The motion to extend the face covering bylaws will go before regional council for confirmation on May 19.

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