Update 4:39 p.m.:
Beginning Friday, July 17, York Region businesses and others who operate indoor spaces that are open to the public must have a temporary policy that allows entry only to people wearing face coverings or masks.
That policy is set to expire on Nov. 30, but is subject to change depending on the local COVID-19 situation at that time, as well as the status of the Ontario government’s emergency orders, which have been extended to July 22 and include limits on social gatherings and maintaining physical distancing in public.
After a day-long debate on the subject, York Region council voted unanimously to enact the mandatory masking rule. The region joins a growing number of public health districts in Ontario to put such a measure in place, including Toronto, Simcoe Muskoka, Durham and Ottawa.
The York Region motion endorses its medical officer of health to issue an instruction consistent with the approach taken by other public health units, which requires operators to prohibit persons from entering their premises if they are not wearing a non-medical face covering.
Exemptions to that rule include children under five years of age, those with medical conditions, special needs, and the inability to put on a mask.
Also, approved York Region signage must be displayed at the front of businesses and establishments, and note the appropriate exemptions.
The instructions further specify that best efforts shall be made by all of those operators and establishments of the enclosed public spaces to only allow entry to persons wearing a non-medical face covering.
Education rather than enforcement shall be the principal objective of the instruction, the motion states.
“This (motion) does allow for potential charges, but that being said, we’re going to continue to monitor the activity out there and based on future direction from the province of Ontario as to how long the measures will continue, we’ll have to re-evaluate this,” said Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti who, along with Vaughan Mayor Maurizio Bevilacqua, introduced the motion at regional council on June 25.
The businesses and establishments affected by the mandatory masking policy closely follow Toronto’s list, which includes the following:
- retail stores
- convenience stores
- malls, shopping plazas
- grocery stores, bakeries, farmer’s markets (enclosed areas)
- restaurants, bars (when permitted to open for indoor service)
- indoor recreational facilities, gyms, swimming pools (when permitted to open)
- community centres
- community service agencies
- personal service settings
- churches, mosque, synagogue, temples and faith settings
- art galleries, museums, aquariums, zoos
- banquet halls, convention centres, arenas, stadiums, and other event spaces
- real estate facilities such as open house, presentation centres
- common areas in hotels, motels and short-term rentals (e.g. lobbies, elevators, meeting rooms)
- entertainment facilities including concert venues, theatres, cinemas, casinos
- business offices open to the public
Newmarket Mayor John Taylor said he believes the region’s political leaders need to do “everything they possibly can, within reason, to put the health and safety of people first, and limit the economic impact” COVID-19 has had on many businesses.
“This is a reasonable, proactive step, we put an end date on it, we’ll distribute masks, and lead with education,” Taylor said.
The public health report brought forward today recommends the region purchase 300,000 disposable masks for distribution at community venues, at an estimated cost of $180,000.
In this morning’s session of what’s expected to be a day-long debate, York Region council unanimously supported the requirement that the public wear masks or face coverings inside public spaces, including grocery stores and other retail outlets.
The 21-member council is considering a report today that recommends York Region’s medical officer of health issue an instruction that would require operators of enclosed public spaces to have policies that would prohibit people from entering if they are not wearing a face covering.
Many details have yet to be worked out, including what constitutes an operator of an enclosed public space, the start and end date of the temporary masking policy, education and enforcement tactics, who is responsible for signage at local businesses, and whether or not the regional government will purchase masks to be made available to citizens on limited or low incomes.
Newmarket Mayor John Taylor said a majority of residents have done “an exceptional job of following the guidelines”.
“This is clearly a measure we’re taking largely, I believe, in relation to a second wave (of COVID-19). ...And this is a measure that we can take to try to contain that,” Taylor said.
Anecdotal evidence noted in the regional report on mandatory masking suggests that about 65 per cent of York Region residents are voluntarily wearing masks when shopping.
To have an impact on the rate of coronavirus transmission, the uptake in the population should be in the range of 80 per cent and be implemented early in the pandemic, the report notes.
More than 90 deputations from the public were submitted for today’s meeting, with passionate views both pro and con expressed on requiring the public to wear masks or face coverings inside public spaces.
York Region council already voted to make face coverings mandatory on York Region Transit. That policy came into effect on July 2, 2020.
A formal vote has not yet been taken on the issue as the meeting is ongoing today.
Check back here for more on this developing story.