Ottawa residents will be required to wear masks in all indoor public spaces starting Tuesday as part of a bid by the city’s local health unit to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The new rules from Ottawa Public Health come slightly more than a week before city council is scheduled to debate similar restrictions.
“Increasing scientific evidence indicates that wearing a mask is an important measure in reducing COVID-19 transmission,” Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa’s medical officer of health, said in a statement on Monday afternoon.
Etches has the authority to order the mandatory use of masks under directives that govern businesses as part of phase two of the province’s plan to reopen the economy. The measures are being introduced in conjunction with health units in other parts of eastern Ontario and place the onus on business owners to ensure customers abide by the new rules.
Similar rules concerning the use of masks are also in place in other parts of Ontario, including Toronto and Kingston.
Last Friday, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said he’ll be asking for city council’s support at its next meeting on July 15 for a temporary bylaw that would replace Etches’ order, which goes into effect at 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday.
“We’ve heard from business owners that they are in favour of mandating the wearing of cloth masks in indoor public spaces,” Watson said. “This bylaw would ensure that all businesses are on a level playing field. The decrease in transmission will benefit our local economy by allowing increased use of our excellent local establishments and greater customer comfort.”
In a statement, the city said the policy will be “enacted and enforced in good faith and will be primarily used as a means to educate people” on the importance of wearing masks in public places.
Ottawa Public Health said a recent survey suggests a majority of the city’s residents are in favour of the mandatory use of masks in public spaces. Last Friday, Ottawa Board of Trade president and CEO Sueling Ching also backed the policy.
"In addition to reducing the risk of transmission, the consistent use of masks will also inspire the business, consumer and workforce confidence required to restart our economy," she said in a statement.
“We have heard directly from businesses and residents that a clear mandatory mask directive is important to them,” Etches said. “Socializing and normalizing mask use in enclosed public places will help protect our community.”
Children under the age of two, individuals with pre-existing medical conditions and those with other accommodation requirements would be exempt from the proposed bylaw. Watson says residents should “be prepared” to see people in public without masks and asks the community to “be respectful.”
OC Transpo already mandated that transit users wear face coverings while on buses or the O-Train.