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Fort Simpson passes resolution in support of mandatory masks in stores

The resolution, which the village council passed Monday night, encourages retailers in Fort Simpson, N.W.T., to make face masks a requirement in stores and to support those that can't wear a mask due to a disability or "undue hardship."

Personal preference 'not a valid reason to not wear a mask,' council resolution reads

Fort Simpson, N.W.T., in January 2017. The village council passed a resolution Monday calling on retailers to require that patrons wear masks in-store. (Walter Strong/CBC)

Council members in Fort Simpson, N.W.T., have passed a resolution asking stores to make masks mandatory.

The resolution, passed Monday night, encourages retailers to make face masks a requirement in local stores and to support those that can't wear a mask due to a disability or "undue hardship."

The resolution says that personal preference "is not a valid reason to not wear a mask." 

Mayor Sean Whelly stressed that the resolution is a recommendation, not a bylaw, meaning that it is not mandatory for businesses to put this policy in place.

Whelly said it's been difficult for customers to maintain physical distancing in stores because it's the place where so many people interact. 

If there's one thing his council needs to tackle right now, it's the mask issue, Whelly said.

"We want people to recognize that it's for their own good, and get them to voluntarily adopt mask usage," he said.

Fort Simpson Mayor Sean Whelly says residents have a false sense of security that they are protected from COVID-19 because of strong border controls and an absence of a self-isolation centre in their community. (CBC)

The only place in the community where masks are mandatory right now is the liquor store, Whelly said. That's because the N.W.T. Liquor and Cannabis Commission made masks mandatory at all liquor stores in the territory last month.

At that spot, Whelly said people can be seen leaving the store with their masks on and then passing that used mask to the next person waiting in line. 

Whelly said mask usage elsewhere in the community is low, and he believes it's because residents think the strong border measures and isolation centres elsewhere in the territory will keep them from being exposed to the virus. 

"There's a false sense of security," he said. "If one person happened to get it here, it would quickly spread just like in Nunavut." 

This is doubly important to residents as Fort Simpson's ice road gets ready to open during the winter, he continued. The community is cut off from all-seasons roads at the moment, lessening the risk of COVID-19. 

Whelly says residents need to be wearing masks more often to avoid any risk of transmission during the winter, especially once the ice road to their community opens. (Anna Desmarais/CBC)

But as soon as the road opens, Whelly said residents will have to be prepared. 

"We know there's going to be a lot of people travelling here, and from here to Yellowknife and all over," he said. "If there's any outbreaks over there, [there are] more chances that we can see something develop here over the Christmas holidays." 

The next step, Whelly said, is to use some of the village's COVID-19 money to supply local stores with masks that they can provide to customers if they do not have them. 

Whelly said Fort Simpson has already given out hundreds of cloth masks to people in the community, but he thinks providing them to stores directly might help increase mask usage. 

Whelly said both stores in the community, the Northern Store and Unity, are willing to work with the village on this new mask policy.

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