Chatham-Kent approves mandatory mask-wearing bylaw
Region was one of few in Ontario without a mandatory masking policy
Chatham-Kent residents will now be required to wear masks in some indoor public spaces after city council passed a mandatory masking bylaw Monday.
The new bylaw, which comes into effect Friday, has been highly debated within the municipality. The region was one of few in Ontario without a mask requirement.
As part of the approved motion, further amendments around physical distancing and the provision of hand sanitizer in public spaces will be discussed Sept. 14 and developed with the region's medical officer of health Dr. David Colby.
Colby has been hesitant to enforce mandatory mask-wearing, having said that while there is strong evidence to support the effectiveness of medical grade masks, the data is unclear when it comes to cloth ones.
The approved bylaw motion was brought forward by Ward 6 Coun. Brock McGregor, who said many physicians in the community are in support of mandatory masking.
McGregor said the community should see mask-wearing as an additional preventative measure and that people must continue to perform physical distancing and hand sanitizing practices.
"There's no doubt this is a challenging decision and it's one of many that we've had to make and will likely still have to make," McGregor said.
"I think it is reasonable that if we're asked to wear masks to our doctor's offices, to get a haircut, to visit a massage therapist, we can wear a mask when grabbing some groceries or visiting a local retail shop."
Chatham-Kent Mayor Darrin Canniff told council he was in support of the bylaw, despite his concerns.
"What my fear is...by wearing masks, people are going to say 'oh great, I'm protected now,'" he said.
"It's about public safety, it's psychological safety, it's physical safety...and a lot of people will feel better wearing masks."
But not every council member was convinced.
Ward 3 Coun. Steve Pinsonneault said council shouldn't be "making policy on the fly."
"With the cotton masks, I think there is a false sense of security," he said adding that "I think when you got a mask on people assume it's safe to get up close and personal."
During the meeting, other councillors and the mayor discussed the polarization that mandatory masking has created within the community.
Chatham-Kent resident Tera Fox was one of many advocating in favour of the bylaw. She started an online petition July 20 that asked the municipality to implement the policy.
The petition gained more than 2,200 signatures.
As of Monday, Chatham-Kent's public health unit reported 328 COVID-19 cases, with 238 recovered. Three people are in hospital and two people have died from the disease.