Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health has issued a mandate that requires people to wear a face covering when going to or working at a business in the area.
In a news release on Wednesday, public health officials say that the order was made to ensure the safety of residents as they move into phase two of the province’s reopening plan.
Under Section 22 of the Health Protection and Promotion Act, a medical officer of health can write an order to "require a person to take or to refrain from taking any action in respect of a communicable disease."
What to do to follow the rules
The order goes into effect on June 12 at 12:01 a.m. and will be the most widespread facemask requirement in Ontario thus far.
Those exempt from wearing a facemask include those under the age of two, those with medical reasons, or anyone who would have their ability to breathe impacted.
The release also advised that businesses should ensure the availability of alcohol-based hand rub at all entrances and exits of the facility.
Marty Williams, Executive Director of the Downtown Guelph Business Association, says he's worried about how to determine whether or not a customer has a legitimate reason not to wear a mask.
"I think there's going to be some friction and maybe some social shaming and conversations at the front door of stores," he said. "It's going to cause confusion unless that gets clarified too."
Homemade cloth masks, scarves, and bandanas are acceptable to wear. Businesses are not required to provide face coverings.
The order does not apply to outdoor seating at a restaurant.
Part of the reopening strategy
“As we move to reopen, we must always look to balance the economic needs of our region with the health and safety of the public,” said Medical Officer of Health Dr. Nicola Mercer in part in a news release.
The majority of Ontario's public health unit regions, including Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health, will move forward to stage two of Ontario’s reopening plan on June 12, the province announced on Monday afternoon.
A significant list of businesses, including restaurants, hair salons and malls, have been given to go-ahead to reopen during this phase.
"If people are not going to play by the rules, then they're not a good customer," said Williams. "They're not so important that you would risk your own health, employees' health, and other customers' health."
Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph has had a total of 409 cases of COVID-19, including seven reported on Wednesday.
That includes 292 resolved cases and 35 deaths, leaving 112 active cases.
"Ongoing community transmission is occurring. In our area, when you look in our stores, physical distancing is often quite difficult, and as we open up and more people enter our stores for business or for the economy, people are coming into closer contact," Dr. Mercer told CTV in an interview on Wednesday morning.
"The use of masks is a way to protect others."
She adds that the order can be rescinded when there is low or no community transmission of COVID-19 in the area.
"Do the right thing, wear a mask," said Mercer.
Rob Shirkley has been petitioning for mask use in Guelph and says the requirement does not infringe on people's freedom.
"Collectively we are actually more free," he said. "You are able to exist in a grocery store, a shop, you have the freedom of going there and not exposing yourself and not have employees expose themselves to a greater risk of catching the virus."
Could the Region of Waterloo adopt this policy?
By comparison, Waterloo Region has fewer active cases but has had around three times the number of cases and deaths.
Region of Waterloo Public Health officials are still encouraging anyone who can to wear a mask, but have not opted to make face coverings mandatory.
"For businesses that have been permitted to re-open, they need to put in place appropriate precautions, such as physical distancing and mask wearing may be appropriate to their specific setting and services," acting medical officer of health Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang said in a statement issued Wednesday.
"I know businesses will want to do what’s recommended to protect their patrons and staff."
She says that the public health unit would continue to help support the business community and help them put precautions in to safely reopen.