Where do I get a mask? Do I even need one? Those questions and more — answered

Where do I have to wear one? What if I don't? And just how do I put the dang thing on, anyway?

Mandatory mask policies introduced earlier this week in Ottawa

Owner Ankur Vadhera wipes down the front door at Capital Barber Shop in Ottawa. Barber shops are among the places in the city where you'll now have to wear masks, under new rules introduced this week. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Feeling a bit overwhelmed by the new guidelines around COVID-19 mask usage? Not sure what's allowed and what's not?

We've put together this handy guide on wearing masks in public, indoor places, which first became mandatory in the Kingston region in June and has now expanded to the Ottawa area.

Note that the rules are generally the same, no matter which eastern Ontario health unit you find yourself in.

Which regions have mask policies in place?

As of July 9, four eastern Ontario health units have implemented policies requiring people to wear masks in indoor public spaces:

  • Ottawa Public Health (OPH), which covers the City of Ottawa.
  • The Eastern Ontario Health Unit, which covers communities mostly to the east of Ottawa, including the City of Cornwall.
  • The Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit, which includes many communities to the south, including Brockville, Gananoque and Perth.
  • Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington Public Health, which covers the Kingston region, including Greater Napanee.

Hastings Prince Edward Public Health, which covers Prince Edward County and the Belleville area, is planning to make mask use mandatory at local businesses starting July 10.

The Renfrew County and District Health Unit, which includes the city of Pembroke and the mostly rural region to the west of Ottawa, has said it will introduce a mandatory policy next week.

Where do I have to wear one?

Ottawa's directive applies to any "enclosed public space" — in other words, any indoor spots operated by businesses or organizations that are accessed by the public.

That definition includes restaurants and cafés, retail stores and malls, hair salons, gyms, places of worship, art galleries, libraries, and many others.

You'll also have to wear a mask if you're taking a taxi or booking a trip with a ride-hailing service, or riding the elevator to get to your hotel room.

If you don't like those restrictions, OPH would prefer you take it up with them — not the person bagging your groceries or pouring your latte.

Schools and child-care centres are exempt, as are the common areas of private apartment complexes or condos, although OPH notes building owners may implement their own policies.

Masks have been mandatory on OC Transpo buses and trains and inside stations since mid-June.

Mayor Jim Watson speaks to reporters at Tunney's Pasture station on June 14, 2020, one day ahead of a new policy making mask usage mandatory on OC Transpo buses, trains and Para Transpo vehicles. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

What happens if I don't?

You might get a few dirty looks, but for now, you won't get fined.

Authorities do have the power to issue fines under Ontario's state of emergency, but those penalties would be directed at businesses, not individuals.

It should be made clear that certain people are exempt from wearing masks: those with certain medical conditions including cognitive or breathing difficulties, those who can't remove a mask without help, and children under five who can't be persuaded to wear one.

On that note, businesses can't demand proof that you're exempt.

Where do I get a mask?

Ottawa Public Health has a list online of local vendors that can sell you one. If you live elsewhere in eastern Ontario, consult your own health unit's website.

You can also make a cloth one yourself, and you don't even need a sewing machine.

Whichever method you choose, OPH recommends your mask be made of two or three layers of tightly woven but breathable cloth, like cotton or flannel, with no seams over the nose or mouth that could let air out.

Disposable, non-medical masks are also acceptable. The health unit recommends N95 respirator masks be reserved for front-line workers, however, and only be used in "high-risk settings."

A face shield alone is not an acceptable substitute, OPH says.

WATCH: Ottawa Public Health helps you pick the right mask

OK, I have a mask. What do I do with it?

Before you put it on, soap up or sanitize your hands so that they're clean before you touch your face.

Once it's on, make sure it's nice and snug and covers the bridge of your nose down to your mouth. 

You can leave it on all day if you'd like — out of an abundance of caution, or perhaps because it just looks really cool — but you will want to remove it if it gets dirty, damp or damaged.

Just remember to wash or sanitize your hands before taking it off. 

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