London

London's medical officer of health orders businesses to enforce masking ahead of bylaws

London's medical officer of health has issued an instruction making the wearing of face masks mandatory to curb the spread of COVID-19 inside businesses while directing local municipal councils in the region to pass their own mandatory mask bylaws. 

Dr. Chris Mackie is recommending all municipal councils enact a mandatory mask bylaw

Masks will also be mandatory on public transit, taxis and ride sharing services in London starting Monday. People entering businesses must comply with the mask instruction starting Saturday. (CBC / Radio-Canada)

London's medical officer of health has issued an instruction making the wearing of face masks mandatory to curb the spread of COVID-19 inside businesses while directing local municipal councils in the region to pass their own mandatory mask bylaws. 

Dr. Chris Mackie announced the instruction on Friday. It's set to take effect at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday. 

The instruction does not come under Ontario's Health Promotion and Protection Act (HPPA). Instead, it comes under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act and directs businesses to ensure masking, two-metre distancing and to make hand sanitizer available at entrances, exits and cashpoints. 

Mackie said the order puts the focus on education, not enforcement. He cautioned people against confronting others who refuse to wear masks, and pointed out there are exemptions for specific health conditions and children. 

"The biggest challenge will be getting citizens to not enforce," said Mackie. "We would encourage people not to take that on, beyond a gentle reminder. Please do not police others. We're looking to get the overall rate of mask use up; we're not looking to mask every individual."

Dr. Chris Mackie, Medical Officer of Health for the Middlesex-London Health Unit, warns people not to take matters into their own hands if they see someone not wearing a mask. (Geoff Robins/The Canadian Press)

Mackie also said that other measures, including physical distancing and frequent hand washing, remain crucial to keeping case counts low in the London area. There has been an average of just one new case a day over the past two weeks in the area served by the Middlesex-London Health Unit.

As he's maintained since the outbreak began, Mackie said the London area's low case count means the region hasn't hit the threshold required for an HPPA order on masking. He said the instruction announced Friday allows masking rules to go into effect quickly and, unlike an HPPA order, won't come down if and when the provincial state of emergency ends. 

He admitted the instruction order has drawbacks, including a possible court challenge and weak enforcement measures.

But he said the emphasis is on education over enforcement and that businesses won't be expected to do more than remind customers that they should wear a mask. 

Asked why he's making a move now, Mackie said a study out of Boston published this week demonstrated to him the effectiveness of universal masking to slow infection rates, even in environments where case counts are rising. 

"It really adds a level of research evidence on masking that we haven't had before," he said. 

An earlier HPPA order by Mackie that requires masking on transit and in personal care businesses such as hair and nail salons remains in place and will continue to come into effect on Monday as planned. 

Councils called on to pass masking bylaws

Mackie also announced Friday he's recommending all municipalities in Middlesex County draft bylaws that require masking in indoor settings accessible to the public. 

Mackie is already set to appear at a special London city council committee meeting on Monday, where he's expected to explain the regulatory options and most recent research on masking. City council is expected to vote on a masking bylaw at its Tuesday meeting. 

There have been concerns that because Middlesex County is made up of nine separate municipalities, some councils may vote down mask bylaws or draft their own, creating a checkerboard of differing rules. 

Mackie said London's bylaw could be shared with others as a template to achieve consistent rules across the region. 

Mackie's instruction comes the same day London entered Stage 3 of the province's reopening framework, which allows bars, restaurants, gyms and other businesses to serve customers indoors under certain restrictions. 

The city of London announced Friday that playgrounds would reopen for use on Saturday. In a news release, the city says playground equipment will not be sanitized and that parents should ensure their children sanitize their hands after using the equipment. 

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