Norfolk council considers bylaw making masks mandatory

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Norfolk County is being urged to follow the lead of other municipalities and adopt a bylaw making masks mandatory in enclosed, public spaces.

This would include grocery stores and most other commercial establishments.

Waterford Coun. Kim Huffman cited the need at the July 14 meeting of Norfolk council. Huffman has heard reports that some consumers are leaving Norfolk to shop in jurisdictions where masks are mandatory because they feel it is safer.

Masks are a hot topic now that an increasing number of medical authorities have concluded they have a role to play in slowing the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

Dr. Shanker Nesathurai, Norfolk and Haldimand’s medical officer of health, recently spoke favourably of masks, although he qualified that by saying enforcement could be a problem.

Huffman’s suggestion was to come to council as a notice-of-motion on July 21. If approved, the clerk’s department will prepare a mask bylaw for consideration at a special meeting of Norfolk council on Aug. 18.

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It remains to be seen whether the matter is transacted as a potential Norfolk County bylaw, in which case it will be heard at a regular meeting of Norfolk council. As an alternative, the matter could be referred to Norfolk and Haldimand’s board of health. If that is the avenue, the measure could be approved and applied in both counties.

When Haldimand-Norfolk Region was restructured into two standalone municipalities in 2000, the nine-member Norfolk council was designated as the board of health for both counties due to Norfolk’s larger population.

Whatever happens, Norfolk Mayor Kristal Chopp, chair of the counties’ board of health, said Nesathurai should be part of the deliberations.

“He’s the man we need to be listening to in this regard,” Chopp told council.

The effective response to the spread of the coronavirus earlier this year in places such as Vietnam, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore and South Korea shone a spotlight on masks as a potential defence against airborne pathogens.

Many countries in East Asia have a tradition of wearing masks during flu season. Some speculate that facial coverings will come to serve the same function in North America, Europe and other parts of the world once the COVID-19 crisis has passed.

Numerous municipalities in the Greater Toronto Area co-ordinated the adoption of “mandatory” face coverings in enclosed, public spaces earlier this summer.

Recognizing that enforcement is problematic, Toronto Mayor John Tory says there will not be active policing of the measure. Rather, he hopes citizens recognize this is the right thing to do and buy into the campaign voluntarily.

Enforcement can be complicated because some have medical conditions that make it difficult to comply. Masks are not appropriate for individuals with certain respiratory and cardiac conditions. They are also not recommended for young children.

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