Winner Eryka poses with orange and black bike

Directive issued for mandatory mask use

By Patricia Leboeuf

Posted on Thursday July 9th, 2020

Wearing a mask or face covering is now mandatory for members of the public when they enter buildings in Renfrew County.

Though the number of COVID-19 cases has remained low in Renfrew County, local municipalities including Petawawa must now follow this regulation or face fines up to $800. Members of the public and business owners will be given about a week to acclimatize to the new regulation.

Fines are the last resort, however; as the health officials of Renfrew County, Ottawa and Eastern Ontario are aiming at educating residents and not penalizing them. 

The regulation covers individuals who enter enclosed buildings such as businesses and municipal offices. Staff who work behind a sheet of plexiglass or do not deal with non-employees do not have to cover their faces. People do not have to wear a mask while outdoors. 

This mask-wearing regulation has been put in place to protect the public as the virus can still be transmitted while people are asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic. Science has shown that areas with mandatory masking do better at preventing the spread of the disease.

“It is important to note that the pandemic is not over,” said Doctor (Dr) Paul Roumeliotis, Medical Officer of Health, Eastern Ontario Health Unit. “There are hundreds of thousands of cases worldwide, particularly in the United States and mainly where examples of prematurely opening have occurred.”

By wearing masks, health officials hope to reduce cases of COVID-19 and perhaps even prevent a second wave. 

During the H1N1 crisis in 2009, Eastern Ontario saw some of the highest levels of death and comorbidity in the province.

Many businesses and individuals have reached out to health officials for this regulation.

“I wear a mask to protect the person next to me,” said Doctor (Dr) Paula Stewart, Medical Officer of Health, Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit. “I want them to wear a mask so I’m protected. It’s really about social responsibility.”

Business owners will be asked to help enforce the regulation through signs and verbal reminders, but are in no way physically responsible for stopping shoppers from entering their store. That falls on the shoulders of bylaw officers, public health inspectors or police.

Wearing masks will allow the region to enter Phase 3 of reopening more safely.

“It is also important for us to ensure that as we move forward, we take all the necessary precautions to be able to add to the existing precautions,” said Dr Roumeliotis.

Those who cannot afford a mask should reach out to the Renfrew County and District Health Unit or to local charitable organizations who will help them access a mask or face covering.

Though visors are not ideal, those who cannot wear a mask due to issues such as asthma, claustrophobia or are under the age of two should use this as an alternative as it is better than nothing. 

For people who cannot wear a face covering at all, there will be exceptions. Health officials urge people not to police others and to remember to be kind. 

“The more people who wear the mask, the better it is,” said Dr Roumeliotis, adding though people may lie about their health status, it is better to take them at face value and trust in their fellow citizens.

When schools reopen, children will not have to wear a mask while in class. Though youngsters affected by the disease tend to have milder symptoms, they can still get sick. They can stay protected if the adults in their lives maintain social distancing, stay home when sick, practice good hygiene and cover their face.

Complaints about businesses not upholding the regulation can be made through the health unit. Complaints against an individual will not be accepted.