Masks to be made mandatory as of Friday in Quinte area

(Gazette file photo)




The air in the debate of whether Prince Edward County Council would mandate the wearing of masks in public was expelled prior to Tuesday’s meeting.

Hours prior to the commencement of the meeting, Hastings Prince Edward Public Health (HPEPH) declared that masks or other face coverings would be made mandatory in all enclosed commercial establishments as of noon on Friday, July 10. The declaration falls under the province’s Emergency Management and Civil Protections Act.

During the Regular Council Meeting on Tuesday evening, Dr. Alexa Caturay, Acting Chief Medical Officer of Health, spoke to council on the science, policy and protocols surrounding HPEPH’s response to COVID-19 and mask wearing.

In addition to the presentation from Caturay, council also received a Report from the Clerk’s Office regarding face masks and similar coverings.

The report highlighted the need for the municipality to increase community efforts promoting the use of face masks in enclosed public areas. Prior to the issuance of the mandatory mask/face covering order by the HPEPH, staff had drafted a bylaw that would have mandate the use of face masks or face coverings in enclosed public spaces.

In her deputation, Caturay noted mandatory masks/face coverings are an important part of behaving proactively to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and is part of a constellation of practices being recommended and employed locally.

In the Quinte area Caturay noted there has been a total of 43 confirmed COVID-19 cases, 37 of which have recovered, one which is still active (thought medically considered resolved) and five of which have been fatal.

“This is an unprecedented time in our history both globally and locally,” stated Caturay. “This is a full scale response that we have never done before in the history of this health unit and it’s the kind of emergency and level of response that has never been seen.”

Caturay stated some of the local health unit’s duties include working with community partners to interpret and apply provincial guidelines, provide updates and provide local recommendations for the healthcare sector, municipalities and community partners where required.

“Our goal is to ensure there is always adequate testing in this region for those who are symptomatic,” she added.

In speaking to council, Caturay also noted the HPEPH is reticent to redeploy health unit staff for enforcement of face masks/coverings, and that such a mandate has been issued “in good faith” assuming community members will comply.

“We’ve provided for enforcement via a number of means. Our intent is to enforce this in good faith,” she said. “We understand operators will need some time to catch up to us and procure the necessary supplies to have their policies and procedures in place. Again, our intent is to enforce this largely via education and information for the first number of weeks.”

Instructions on mandatory masks/face coverings have been issued to businesses throughout the area as of Tuesday afternoon.

In speaking to council, Caturay asked for help in promoting the the use of masks/face coverings.

She also added there will be some exemptions, mostly due a medical or physical inability to wear a mask/face covering or due to age (the mandate does not apply to infants).

“We’ve provided alternatives in terms of what people can use to cover their face, for instance for people with communication issues we would consider whether or not a face shield was a reasonable work-around,” stated Caturay.

Councillor Bill Roberts questioned whether or not consideration had been paid to mandating masks/face coverings in public areas other than commercial establishments.

“This applies only to commercial establishments,” Roberts stated. “Did you consider or were you asked to consider public spaces as well such as town halls, arenas, markets etc?

“We did consider other public spaces. At present, I think the greatest risk of people congregating is in the spaces outlined here. As we move forward and adapt these measures I think there’s room to be flexible,” she replied.

Councillor Andreas Bolik inquired as to the timeline for enforcing this issuance.

“The weight of this falls on businesses and I know there are a number of concerns of those businesses,” he commented. “So, just to be clear, you said that those instructions take place this Friday but nobody will be held tightly to these guidelines for a couple of weeks?”

“You are correct in that the date for effect is this Friday at noon, unless we encounter a case where there are significant challenges on the part of operator or individuals,” said Caturay. “We do not anticipate having to enforce these rules full stop with things like penalties. We are intending to enforce with education…our intent is for the vast majority of individuals to work with us.”

Dr. Nora Rogers, retired local physician and owner of The Waring House spoke to council urging them to extend the mandatory use of masks/face coverings to include outdoor public spaces where physical distancing is not possible.

“I really think there’s so much that can be done to prevent being struck by COVID-19 and having an outbreak in this community. I don’t know we’re doing everything we could be doing,” said Rogers.

“I hope this motion might be extended to include outdoor spaces where social distancing is not possible…This might include a farmer’s stand, restaurants, bars or anywhere operating in a patio setting. It just takes one case to mess us up in this community.”

Given the recommendation of staff to mandate masks and face coverings, Clerk Catalina Blumberg noted there was precedent wherein council could expand the issuance from Caturay to include masks and face coverings in all public areas-whether outside or inside.

“If you would like to go above and beyond instruction from Medical Officer of Health, you could pass a bylaw enforcing mask wearing in all public spaces,” said Blumberg.

Councillor Bill Roberts brought forth an amended motion with regard to a bylaw on the use of masks or face coverings in all enclosed public spaces. This amendment was eventually passed.

Ultimately, the report from staff and ensuing recommendations were passed as a Harper/MacNaughton motion.