Kitchener-Waterloo

Your questions answered about Waterloo region's mask bylaw

In advance of the Region of Waterloo's mask bylaw coming into effect on Monday, regional officials have answers for common questions around what's expected of people and businesses.

People asked to be patient with one another as new bylaw is introduced

Be prepared to wear a mask in Waterloo region starting on Monday if going for a haircut or a trip to the grocery store. The new mask bylaw takes effect July 13 and people will be expected to wear masks or face coverings in most indoor settings with a few exceptions. (Michael McArthur/CBC)

People in Waterloo region are preparing for a new mask bylaw to take effect on Monday, July 13, and many have questions about how the new rules will affect day-to-day life.

Regional council voted unanimously Monday night to make masks and face coverings mandatory for people indoors or in enclosed public spaces like stores, shopping malls, museums and recreational facilities. People must also wear a mask while on public transit.

The bylaw says a mask must cover a person's nose, mouth and chin.

There are some exceptions: children under five and people who cannot wear a mask for health reasons are exempt and will not have to provide proof of that exemption. 

Regional Chair Karen Redman said it's hoped the mask bylaw will help the region move into Stage 3 of the province's COVID-19 recovery plan. The bylaw will end on Sept. 30 unless extended by council.

"[We] ask that people comply in the spirit of protecting each other," Redman said. "This is something we're doing for other people so remember to be kind to those who may have a reason for not wearing a mask."

Regional officials addressed a number of common questions during the regular media briefing on Tuesday. Below are some of their responses.

Can I be fined for not wearing a mask?

The region's chief administrative officer Mike Murray says the region hopes people will "comply voluntarily" with the new bylaw. 

The region is taking an education approach to start, meaning people not wearing a mask will be first be informed about the bylaw, but there are instances where a person could be charged, said Murray.

For people using Grand River Transit, the region updated its code of use bylaw to include masks, so someone could be ticketed if they refuse to wear a mask while on a bus or ION vehicle. That fine is $240. People can also be asked to leave a bus or LRT vehicle if they fail to comply with the code of use bylaw and be barred from using transit services.

Off transit, bylaw officers have the power to issue a court summons and regional staff have been directed to ask the province to set fines, which would allow bylaw officers to ticket people. The region is awaiting the province's response to that request. The region is asking for the fine to be similar to the transit code of use bylaw, setting it at about $240.

"I think it's possible that there would be circumstances where somebody was consistently, repeatedly and intentionally violating the bylaw and I could picture scenarios where, in those kinds of circumstances … where we might pursue charges," Murray said.

Do I have to prove I can't wear a mask?

No.

Can I wear a face shield instead of a mask?

Yes, if a person is unable to wear a mask, a face shield can be used as an alternative.

Redman noted a face shield is mandatory on Grand River Transit if a person is unable to wear a mask.

I don't have a mask and need to take transit. What do I do?

Grand River Transit has purchased 40,000 masks, Redman said. Half are reusable and half are disposable. The masks will be provided to riders who do not have a mask — while supplies last.

I want to report someone who isn't wearing a mask. How do I do that?

The region said it is encouraging people to be patient and suggested gently reminding others to wear masks. Businesses don't need to grill customers on their reasons for not wearing a mask.

If a person has an ongoing concern about persistent non-compliance, Murray said to call the Region of Waterloo's Service First call centre at 519-575-4400. That should not be the first call, though, he said.

"We're really encouraging people to avoid confrontation," Murray said.

"We think this is a caring community and we think that having the bylaw in place, the vast, vast majority of people will understand it and will comply and especially once they're reminded in a gentle and friendly and helpful way."

Does this affect my bubble? Can I see more people?

No. The number of people allowed in a social circle or bubble is mandated by the province's emergency orders and currently cannot exceed 10, even if people are outside.

Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang, the region's acting medical officer of health, urged people to "gather smart" this summer.

That includes staying home if sick, maintaining a physical distance of two metres from anyone not in your social bubble, keeping a list of names of people you gather with, washing hands often and getting tested if you come down with symptoms of COVID-19. 

I'm a business owner. How do I inform customers about the bylaw?

The region is providing signs to businesses through the city halls, township offices, chambers of commerce and  regional offices starting July 13. Signs can also be downloaded from the region and printed.

The region has also created a special mask bylaw website for people with lingering questions.

Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health's order mandating masks requires businesses to enforce the order or potentially face a $5,000 fine.

Since that order went into place about a month ago, no businesses have been fined, said Chuck Ferguson, manger of communications for Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health.

That health unit said it too is taking an educational approach. 

"We do receive complaints from members of the public, or employees about businesses not in compliance. Public health inspectors have gone to speak with the owners/managers of the premises and provide information or resources," Ferguson said.

In Waterloo region, businesses are not mandated to ensure customers are wearing masks but they must post signs in a clear way so customers can see it.

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