Mask mandates lift today — but some businesses aren't ready to go that far
Health officials still encouraging caution, tolerance of choices to wear masks
With many of Ontario's masking rules no longer in place, some Ottawa businesses say the onus of keeping others safe now falls to them.
"I felt tired, exasperated that provincial authorities are just downloading the responsibility to make difficult decisions onto small businesses," said Faustina Konkal, who owns Fabrications Ottawa, a fabric and craft supply shop on Carling Avenue.
Starting Monday, most of Ontario's mask mandates — including in schools, restaurants, gyms and stores — are no longer in effect. The vaccine passport had already been already lifted.
Many other Ontario COVID-19 restrictions will be dropped by the end of April.
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Fabrications will still require customers to wear masks, but Konkal fears enforcing their policy will be difficult.
"When there was a mask mandate and somebody wasn't wearing a mask, we could ask them to leave. We could offer to serve them outside," Konkal said.
"If [shoppers] were being combative, we could call police. And now I really don't know what kind of support and backing we have."
Respect choices of others, says Etches
On Friday, Ottawa's Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Vera Etches, posted a message addressing students and parents about the return from March Break and the fact that masks will no longer be required in classrooms.
She urged people to be respectful of others' choices during "this time of change and transition."
"I encourage everyone to continue with these layers of protection that you feel comfortable with, and that will help reduce the risk of COVID-19," Etches said.
"I will continue to practice [masking] indoors where physical distancing is difficult. We are happy to be moving toward a more stable situation, but we know we need to continue to monitor and assess."
Please take a few moments to listen to this video message from your Medical Officer of Health about what back-to-school might be like as we come back from March Break.<a href="https://t.co/mysFQjqNT9">https://t.co/mysFQjqNT9</a>—@OttawaHealth
Ottawa Public Health will let people know if the city's risk assessment for COVID-19 changes, she said.
Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, medical officer of health for the Eastern Ontario Health Unit, put out a similar message, saying he'll keep his mask on in high-risk situations like crowded indoor areas or places with poor ventilation.
At the Gladstone Theatre, staff are requiring both masks and vaccination until the end of June, according to Alain Chamsi, who chairs the theatre's board of directors.
The ByTowne Cinema and National Arts Centre will also require patrons to wear masks and prove they've been immunized.
"Theatres, in general, tend to draw an older audience — and an older audience will feel a little more comfortable knowing that they have more protection," Chamsi said.
"At least they would feel that they have more protection in their own minds."
For now, mask mandates will remain in place on public transit, and in long-term care and retirement homes, shelters, jails and congregate care and living facilities.
- A previous version of this story incorrectly spelled the name of one business. It is Fabrications Ottawa, not Fabrication Ottawa.Mar 21, 2022 8:45 AM ET
With files from Avanthika Anand