Ottawa city council will consider a proposal at its next meeting that would see non-medical masks made mandatory for indoor public spaces, Mayor Jim Watson announced Friday.
Watson tweeted that he and Coun. Keith Egli, chair of Ottawa Public Health (OPH), are planning a new bylaw requiring anyone entering a business or other commercial establishment to wear a mask.
City council will consider the motion at its next meeting on July 15.
The move comes as other municipalities across Ontario are taking similar steps to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus amid hopes of progressing to Stage 3 reopening. Toronto and Peel Region both moved to create similar bylaws in their jurisdictions earlier this week, joining Kingston, Guelph and others across the province.
Watson and Egli said in a joint statement that it’s not always possible to know before entering a commercial establishment whether physical distancing will be possible.
They also said businesses surveyed by the city have been receptive to a plan to make masks mandatory, suggesting the move could help customers feel more comfortable.
Surveys from OPH have also indicated a general acceptance for widespread mask-use, though Ottawa’s medical officer of health, Dr. Vera Etches, said Monday there’s “room for improvement” when it comes to wearing masks in the city.
OPH’s engagement surveys during the pandemic show that 90 per cent of respondents said they would be willing to wear a mask to access services, while 73 per cent said they already wear cloth masks in indoor public spaces.
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Ottawa’s transit riders are already mandated to wear masks while taking the bus or using the light-rail transit system. OC Transpo has taken an educational approach rather than a punitive one in enforcing the rule, handing out spare masks rather than tickets to anyone not wearing a face covering.
Anthony Di Monte, the head of Ottawa’s bylaw department, said Monday a bylaw mandating wearing masks would give the city a new “enforcement tool” during the pandemic.
A bylaw could allow the city to set its own fines for any infractions rather than deferring to the provincially mandated amounts, he said, and could give OC Transpo’s special constables the power to more strictly enforce the mask rule on public transit.
Until the July 15 meeting, OPH and the other public health units in the Champlain region will work towards a “regional approach” to mandating mask usage in their respective jurisdictions.
Details on this joint effort from the region’s public health units will be announced on Monday, July 6.
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