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Norfolk-Haldimand MOH latest to endorse mask use

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The position of medical authorities on masks has evolved considerably since Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said this spring that they may actually cotribute to the spread of COVID-19.

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Dr. Shanker Nesathurai, Norfolk and Haldimand’s medical officer of health, has joined a growing chorus of experts who believe that masks may be key to controlling the spread of the coronavirus in public settings.

Nesathurai praised those at the June 19 Norfolk and Haldimand board of health meeting for wearing masks. He reiterated his enthusiasm at the board of health meeting on June 30.

“I think people should wear masks where they can’t reasonably expect to be six feet away from other individuals,” Nesathurai said. “Masks have an important role to play. It’s an item we should keep open as a regulatory framework.

“It is one effective method for reducing transmission of COVID-19.”

Opinion on the efficacy of masks changed this spring after medical officials watched how quickly countries such as Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan brought their coronavirus outbreaks under control.

The evidence is only anecdotal, but all four have a history of citizens wearing masks in public during flu season. Masks were evident again this spring after the pandemic was declared, and with them a rapid decline of the public rate of infection.

Historians studying the pandemic will identify June 30 as a turning point in Ontario on the role masks have to play in the response to COVID-19.

As a co-ordinated, region-wide strategy, Toronto, Mississauga, Brampton, Caledon and Peel Region announced plans to make masks mandatory in enclosed public settings where a six-foot buffer between individuals is difficult to maintain. All are acting on the advice of their respective medical officers of health.

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Marlene Miranda, Norfolk and Haldimand’s general manager of health and social services, said Nesathurai could replicate the measure locally with a Section 22 order under the Health Protection and Promotion Act. This, Miranda said, is how mandatory masks recently came to the City of Guelph.

Nesathurai is enthusiastic about masks. However, he said the challenge is enforcement. Political and medical officials are reluctant to back up these orders with fines or police intervention.

Toronto Mayor John Tory addressed the issue on the same day when he said he will rely on residents of the Greater Toronto Area to comply because it is the right thing to do.

Medical authorities don’t believe masks prevent the coronavirus from entering a wearer’s respiratory tract. However, they are increasingly of the opinion that masks capture aerosol droplets that are exhaled when we breathe.

These droplets are a vehicle for COVID-19 in coronavirus-positive individuals. Where everybody is wearing a mask, medical officials say individuals are protecting those around them in instances where people are positive for COVID-19 but are asymptomatic.

Complications surrounding enforcement arise in cases where people are unable to wear a mask due to medical conditions such as emphysema and heart disease. Questions also surround children and whether some might find masks threatening or traumatizing.

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