CORNWALL — Mandatory mask-wearing is about to be imposed on Eastern Ontario residents visiting stores and other indoor public spaces.
Eastern Ontario Medical Officer of Health Dr. Paul Roumeliotis revealed Tuesday that plans are in motion to implement the new rule by sometime next week — and in a broader region beyond his own. The collaboration involves the medical officers overseeing Leeds, Grenville and Lanark counties, the City of Ottawa, as well as the five eastern counties and Cornwall served by Roumeliotis. Ottawa’s medical officer of health may press city council to pass a bylaw, while Roumeliotis — who has multiple councils to contend with — will use existing powers under section 22 of the provincial Health Protection and Promotion Act to impose the measure.
The move follows other public health units in Ontario that have already done the same — in response to recent outbreaks in London and Kingston. It also comes after “a lot of complaints and requests from the public” for mandatory masks inside indoor public spaces “particularly businesses,” according to Dr. Roumeliotis, who says the Eastern Ontario Health Unit received “email after email after email” seeking the rule.
Below, the doctor explains the rationale for wearing masks in a media briefing.
The doctor highlighted the primary role of a non-medical mask as protection not for yourself, but the other person as a collective action. “If I wear a face covering … I’m protecting you. If you wear a face covering, you’re protecting me,” he said, after showing slides that show a mask’s effectiveness at stopping the wearer’s sneeze or cough from reaching others. “If we all wear it, we’re protecting each other,” he observed.
“We want people to get used to it, have it as a norm … there will be enforcement with this,” the doctor said, urging the public to start wearing masks in public places right away instead of waiting for his order.
“We have nothing to lose by wearing a mask, nothing to lose whatsoever.”
Establishing the mask-wearing habit will also leave the populace better prepared for a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic “if and when it comes,” he said.
A visible ramping up in the fight against the virus, the impending rule otherwise coincides with increasingly rare infections in rural Eastern Ontario. “Particularly in the eastern area, we’ve had no new cases, literally over the last week,” the doctor conceded.
One hundred and sixty-four people have come down with the sickness in the EOHU region since the start of the pandemic, with 145 of them now recovered, three still in hospital and 11 dead. The deaths all occurred at the Plantagenet Nursing Home, earlier in the spring, during the region’s only fatal outbreak at an institution. No long-term care facilities in the region are currently in a state of outbreak.
The EOHU has also seen a surge in demand for tests since the province allowed visits to long-term care facilities, with the requirement that the visitor test negative in advance. In a couple of instances, these asymptomatic test-seekers have learned that they were carrying the bug.