Face coverings mandatory in Oxford, Elgin

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Face coverings are now mandatory in enclosed public spaces in the Tillsonburg area as of Friday, July 31.

Southwestern Public Health issued a letter of instruction for all businesses in Oxford and Elgin counties. It includes a one-week grace period to allow businesses time to prepare. Policies must be in place by August 6.

All commercial establishments, public transit, and service vehicles are instructed to implement two policies: one that requires everyone to wear face coverings while in enclosed public spaces; and a second for public health measures in enclosed employee spaces not accessible to the public.

Face Covering means a medical or non-medical mask or other face covering such as a bandana, a scarf, or a cloth that covers the mouth and nose. Face shields are not an acceptable form of a face covering for the purpose of these instructions.

The second policy for employee spaces focuses on physical distancing, face coverings when physical distancing is not possible, enhanced cleaning and disinfecting, and requiring staff who are sick to stay home while advising they be tested for COVID-19.

“Make no mistake, the key to continued success in protecting our health and our economy from COVID-19 is in our hands,” said Dr. Joyce Lock, Medical Officer of Health, in a letter to businesses. “The Public Health instructions to business and organization owners and operators provide you with clear direction so you can continue to be part of the solution in keeping our communities safe.”

Southwestern Public Health is also recommending municipalities pass bylaws for a consistent approach to face coverings across the region. Tillsonburg’s next regular council meeting is August 10.

“Our response has evolved throughout this pandemic, yet it has always been centred on measures equal to local risks,” said Lock. “Our confirmed cases have increased, most public spaces are open, and we have more opportunities to interact with each other. Face coverings will help manage these risks.”

When it comes to enforcement, Southwestern Public Health and its municipal partners will take an education-first approach. However, individuals and corporations that do not comply could face fines.

“It is important to know that while we will commence with an educational and supportive approach, as per the Reopening Ontario Act, those who do not comply… may be fined.

“Individuals may be liable for a fine of $750-$1,000 up to a maximum of $100,000, while corporations may be liable for a fine of up to $10,000,000 for each day or part of each day on which the offence occurs or continues,” said Lock in the letter to businesses.

“Our hope is the community will share the responsibility of containing COVID-19 by following these policies. It is an incredibly caring act to wear a face covering because it protects other people from your germs. My mask protects you, and your mask protects me.”

Certain individuals are exempt from wearing a face covering, including children under 2 or children under 5 if they cannot be persuaded to wear one by a caregiver… people with health conditions that make it difficult to wear one… people in situations where a face covering would limit the ability to breathe (such as swimming)… and people who cannot put on or remove a face covering without help.

Businesses cannot ask anyone for proof of exemption.

“Please be understanding if someone cannot wear a face covering due to health conditions,” said Dr. Lock, who noted face coverings are not intended to replace physical distancing.

The letter of instruction will remain in effect until further notice. Learn more at www.swpublichealth.ca/WorkplacesCOVID-19.

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