The nuances of Eastern Ontario’s mask rule

Above, Eastern Ontario Medical Officer of Health Dr. Paul Roumeliotis addresses the issue a number of times during media briefings in July.

EASTERN ONTARIO — The nuances of the region’s three-week-old mask mandate were laid out by one of its principal architects during a series of video chat media briefings in July — including an acknowledgment that establishments may bar all unmasked patrons as a private measure even if that potentially simpler approach is not envisioned by the actual public health rule.

“If an institution wants to have their own no-mask-no-service [rule] … it’s a private institution, that’s their prerogative. But we’re not forcing them … to do it that way,” Eastern Ontario Medical Officer of Health Dr. Paul Roumeliotis said July 23. “We did not do denial-of-service. We’d rather have more of an encouraging and educational approach.”

In separate Zoom appearances last month, Dr. Paul Roumeliotis emphasized a number of key points about the masking requirement:

• Establishments are not to “police” the rule — even as the business itself is the only entity potentially facing a fine for non-compliance (not patrons);

• Establishments could find themselves in non-compliance if they “repeatedly” fail to ask unmasked individuals if they have a medical exemption (it’s not the fact of having unmasked individuals on the premises);

• Patrons with medical conditions are exempt from the rule based entirely on their word, with asthma mentioned by the doctor as one applicable condition;

• The rule does not compel store owners to deny entry to all unmasked individuals by default, and businesses that do so — such as Walmart — are following their own prerogative;

• The rule is intended to be more about education than teeth;

• The Eastern Ontario Health Unit intends to be “very lax” about imposing actual fines, according to the doctor.

“Our intent was to get people as much as possible used to doing it [wearing a mask],” the doctor said July 16. “And what I’m hearing is that it’s happening, more and more. I don’t want people to be ashamed if they’re not wearing them because they can’t … but again, we encourage people to wear them as much as possible…. I don’t expect the employer or the employee to be the police. I just expect them to remind people, and sometimes just reminding them to put them on. I don’t want anything else. We don’t want any confrontations or anything like that.”

Dr. Roumeliotis was one of four medical officers of health in the broader area that used their powers July 7th, under provincial legislation, to mandate the wearing of masks when visiting indoor public areas. Most regions of the province have done the same, as have many jurisdictions across the continent. “It’s going to become the norm,” the doctor says.


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