Mask bylaw now in effect in Waterloo region

Masks or face coverings are now mandatory in most enclosed public spaces in Waterloo region and on Grand River Transit.

Masks or face coverings mandatory in most indoor, public spaces, on transit

People in Waterloo region will need to wear a mask or face covering when going into most enclosed or indoor spaces, including stores, businesses and some offices. Masks or face shields are also required on Grand River Transit. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Waterloo region's new mask bylaw comes into effect Monday morning, meaning masks and face coverings are mandatory in most indoor, public spaces and on transit.

Regional councillors passed the bylaw last week unanimously after hearing from members of the public.

The bylaw asks anyone who can wear a mask to do so. The exceptions include young children and people with health conditions that make it hard for them to wear a mask. There is no requirement for people to prove they have a health condition.

People unable to wear masks on Grand River Transit will be asked to wear a face shield.

Businesses also must post signs indicating masks must be worn. The region is providing signs through municipal offices, chambers of commerce or for download off the region's website.

The bylaw will end on Sept. 30 unless extended by regional council.

Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang, the region's acting medical officer of health, says wearing masks will further curb the spread of COVID-19 in the region as more stores and businesses reopen.

"No community is immune to a resurgence of cases of COVID-19. In Waterloo region, like elsewhere, the rate of new infections in our community could easily increase if we become too relaxed with our measures," she said Friday during a media briefing.

Wang also encouraged people to continue washing their hands, staying home if they feel sick and maintaining a physical distance of at least two metres from anyone not in their social circle or bubble.

The number of new cases of COVID-19 has slowed in recent weeks to under 10 each day. Last week, the number of new cases remained under five each day except for Monday, when weekend numbers were reported. There have been 117 deaths related to COVID-19 in Waterloo region.

Masks part of 'collective responsibility'

When asked if she regretted not issuing a public health order for masks and face coverings, similarly to what was done by Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health, Wang said she supported the council's decision to pass a bylaw.

"The bylaws that are passed does put the responsibility on all of us who can wear masks to wear masks, reinforcing what we've been trying to say all along which is that it is a collective responsibility for us to protect each other," she said.

Region of Waterloo Chair Karen Redman said the council debate allowed "an amazing example of civic engagement" because many people either spoke to council or wrote or called councillors with their thoughts.

She also encouraged people not to be confrontational about masks. If someone is not wearing a mask, people should first assume it's for a health reason, she said.

"It's important to show kindness to those who are unable to wear a face covering," she said.

Redman added that wearing masks is "an important step in helping our region safely reopen and move from Stage 2 to Stage 3 in the near future."