Public spaces across the Renfrew County District Health Unit will need patrons to wear a mask, starting tomorrow.

In a press conference on Monday, the health units of Eastern Ontario announced that they will mandate masks to be worn inside any enclosed spaces that are accessible to the public. The instruction will come into effect next week and will be reviewed at a later date. The RCDHU issued the directive primarily to educate people on the use of masks to curb the spread of COVID-19.

During the press conference Acting Officer of Health Dr. Robert Cushman said masks can make a difference and are a multiplier on public health measures. They also make you more conscious of distancing. He says public health measures like this are keeping COVID-19 at bay. He also says that masks are needed to go phase 3 of the provincial reopening plan, and says it’s a personal inconvenience that is a social responsibility. But he says that this inconvenience will allow the province to reopen the economy, and do what we need to do to contain this disease. He says that responsibility will have a lasting effect, because the coronavirus can pop up anywhere. He says that this will help us contain the virus and get to a new normal so that we can resume most of our daily activities.

During the press conference, the Health Units from Leeds/Grenville/Lanark, Ottawa, Eastern Ontario and Renfrew County outlined details on the guidelines surrounding masks. Frequently asked was if the rule was mandatory for everyone, to which the Units’ Officers of Health said no. They said that anyone under the age of 2, with trouble breathing, and anyone unable to remove a mask without help are some of those who will be exempt. The public health officers have stated that at this time they will not require proof of these conditions. They say the onus to enforce these measures will be on the businesses, and rely on the good will of the general public. They say that the enforcing power for the units falls under the Provincial Emergency Act that grants the health units power to enforce mandates. While fines will not yet be enforced, the officers of health said that fines would be levied by OPP and by-law officers if the public ignores the directive.

For those unable to afford masks, the Health Units said that the Unit would work with partners, like the United Way, to make sure that those who couldn’t afford one could get one. While they say that face shields do not count as masks, they are better than nothing, and should cover the face down to below the chin. They also say that wearing a mask does not replace staying at home, and they urge the public to make sure they do so if they’re sick. On support for the measures, Public Health Officers from the four units said they have received support from the majority of people for mandatory wearing of masks in public.

The full statement from the RCDHU can be found here.