Waterloo region's mask bylaw to be extended to May 2021
'This is as much about economic recovery as it is public health,' Kitchener mayor says
The region's face covering bylaw is expected to be extended until the end of May 2021 after regional councillors voted to do so at a committee meeting Tuesday.
The region's face covering bylaw was set to end on Sept. 30 unless extended by council. The decision, which was carried unanimously, still needs to be ratified by councillors at a regular council meeting, scheduled on Sept. 23.
There are two bylaws, one for transit and one for other indoor spaces. The bylaw for indoor spaces will also now include communal spaces in multi-residential buildings and taxis.
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.
Councillors heard from delegations and spent about an hour discussing extending the bylaw to next spring as recommended by public health staff.
"This is not a political decision," North Dumfries Mayor Sue Foxton said, who asked for staff to provide a report in January to give an update on the bylaw. "This is a decision of trying to help those that are under stress, those that are trying to see clear through COVID-19."
Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic said everyone wants to return to a new normal and mask wearing is for the well-being of everyone, especially through the upcoming flu season.
"This is as much about economic recovery as it is public health," Vrbanovic said.
Some object to bylaw
The region heard from a number of people who were opposed to the extension of the face covering bylaw. Many said they didn't believe science supported the bylaw and that it should be their choice to wear a mask or not.
Jennifer Akgol of Kitchener said the fact that cases appear to be on the rise proves the bylaw doesn't work.
Victoria Kerr of Cambridge said because the number of people who die from the virus is low, it should be up to individuals to decide if they want to wear a mask. She says she has asthma and the mask impacts her, but she feels bullied if she doesn't wear a mask.
Chanakya Ramdev of Waterloo spoke in favour of the bylaw, saying it makes people feel comfortable to go into stores because there's that extra layer of protection. He questioned people who say masks aren't necessary because 120 people died in the region, but there were 1,531 COVID-19 cases.
"Were they disappointed that the worst didn't happen," he said. "How many deaths would they have liked to see for them to be comfortable with the mask policy being extended? How many lives would have to be lost?"
Cases linked to social groups
On Tuesday, the region reported three new cases of COVID-19, bringing the total since March to 1,531. Of those, 1,343 have been marked as resolved. There are 68 active cases with one case in a long-term care home in Waterloo and no one is listed as being in hospital. The number of people who have died from COVID-19 in the region is 120.
Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang, the acting medical officer of health for the region, said in "speaking notes" released by the region in lieu of a media briefing on Tuesday that recent cases show there are clusters, or linked cases, to households and social groups.
"We have seen in our case investigations a trend of cases having notably more high risk contacts than before," she wrote. "This means people are socializing and gathering in close contact with people significantly more than before, without precautions such as physical distancing or wearing face coverings."
Wang noted social bubbles of 10 people — the total number of people that are allowed to physically interact with one another through direct contact such as hugs — cannot change.
"This does not mean one group of 10 people at a family gathering, another group of 10 people at a social gathering, and another group of 10 for a night on the town. It's the same 10 people or less all the time for our social bubble," Wang wrote.
"With others outside of our social bubble, we need to practice physical distancing and wear a face covering if physical distancing can be a challenge or if required by the regional bylaws."