Waterloo region businesses to get say in any mask policies to curb spread of COVID-19: health official

Health officials in Waterloo region plan to canvass local businesses to get their thoughts on what policies should be implemented locally when it comes to asking customers to wear masks or face coverings.

Getting people to wear masks is a fight for business owners, says North Dumfries Mayor Sue Foxton

Masks are not mandatory but are recommended in Waterloo region. Acting medical officer of health Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang says she'll be talking to businesses in the region about what they'd like to see in terms of a mask policy. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Health officials in Waterloo region will talk to business owners about what they would like to see in any kind of mask or face covering policy before making any decisions.

The region's acting medical officer of health, Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang, says she doesn't want to issue an order to make masks mandatory because "there would be significant enforcement challenges."

Instead, Wang says she would like to see people opt to wear masks on their own while also washing their hands and maintaining a physical distance of at least two metres when possible.

"When you issue an order, that is a very serious tool," Wang told regional councillors during a committee meeting on Tuesday. 

Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health has issued an order that makes masks or face coverings mandatory in most businesses. The order places the onus on the business owners to ensure people on their premises wear the face covering.

Wang said businesses are "an important partner" in the community and are already putting in place public health measures to keep customers safe.

"One of the things I would like to do is consult our business community on ways that we can promote and facilitate the use of masks across our community, including in these business settings where people may come into close proximity to others. So that is an avenue I am pursuing," Wang said.

Regional CAO Mike Murray says the region is also looking at various ways to encourage mask use, whether it's through bylaw enforcement or through education and possibly mask giveaways.

Businesses 'not being backed by their communities'

Consulting with businesses is the right move, regional Chair Karen Redman said. On the weekend, she said she went to a farm gate store and the young people working in the store were asking customers to wear masks or face coverings.

"They were really getting a lot of verbal abuse from people coming in. So this is people from our community that are shopping locally," Redman said, adding the business owner was distressed by the response by customers. "I applaud the fact that we are going to canvass business and I would really hate to see more incidents of young staff being verbally abused by people who choose not to comply."

North Dumfries Mayor Sue Foxton said she has also heard from businesses that want customers to wear masks and the customers argue against it.

"Because [it] isn't regulated in Waterloo region, people are using that. [They say] 'Well, it's OK in Waterloo region, we don't have to wear mask,'" Foxton said.

Foxton said she was waiting to get into a building supply store recently and she counted about 70 people in line.

"Out of the 70, two had masks on, besides myself, so I make three," she said. "The point being is: people are getting this false sense of security. We keep saying how well Waterloo region is doing and they're thinking we're immune to the point that they don't want to hassle with the mask."

Foxton said business owners are upset because "it's a fight that they feel they're not being backed by their communities."