Mandatory masks aren't the answer, public health officials say as COVID-19 numbers pass their peak
KITCHENER -- We're over the peak and in a much better place, but the risk of COVID-19 is still present in our community, and the pandemic is not over.
That was the message from Waterloo Region's top doctor on Tuesday, but public health officials are still standing by their decision not to make masks mandatory.
Acting Medical Officer of Health Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang provided an update at the Committee of the Whole meeting in lieu of the regular public health updates provided on Tuesday mornings.
There were plenty of questions about masks and why they aren't mandatory in the region.
"When you issue an order, that is a very serious tool," Dr. Wang explained.
"Generally when the courts look at this, if it ever goes to court, they're looking proportionality, whether the risk and threat is such that it is acceptable that a medical officer would use an order that would limit people's rights."
That's despite neighbouring unit Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health's decision last week to mandate masks in businesses. On Tuesday, the City of Guelph also announced masks would be mandatory in most cases on its buses.
During Tuesday's meeting, one regional councillor said she had recently seen a lineup of about 70 people outside of a store. Of those, only about two were wearing masks, she said.
She added that, by not making masks mandatory, it gives people the false impression that everything is okay.
Dr. Wang says that she would like to communicate with local businesses to determine the best way to enforce masks in those settings.
Another councillor agreed, saying she doesn't think people are "getting it."
Still, regional officials say there are other ways of improving mask use without making them mandatory.
"What's the best way to accomplish that outcome? Is it through by-laws and orders or is it through education, awareness, perhaps mask giveaways?" asked CAO Mike Murray when asked about getting people to wear them.
"The goal is, try to get more people to wear masks when they're in close proximity. So looking into whether we have the ability, as a municipality to do that is absolutely something we can look at."
Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic asked, if an order from the Medical Officer of Health isn't a desirable option, can a regional bylaw be enforced to make masks mandatory?
Cambridge Mayor Kathryn McGarry agreed that enforcing it could possibly lead to more problems.
There have been 1,218 cases of COVID-19 to date in Waterloo Region.
That number includes 1,010 resolved ones and 115 deaths, meaning there are 93 active cases that have been identified by public health officials.