By: Mike Anderson
York Regional Council voted unanimously on July 9 to make non-medical masks and face coverings mandatory inside all enclosed public spaces to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
The vote approved a mandatory instruction, issued by Dr. Karim Kurji, York Region’s Medical Officer of Health, requiring operators of enclosed public spaces to have a policy in place prohibiting people from entering if they are not wearing a face mask or covering.
The public spaces include all retail stores, grocery stores and shopping malls, as well as community centres and places of worship.
The instruction is effective Friday, July 17, and is scheduled to remain in place until Monday, November 30.
Children under the age of five, people with certain health conditions and employees in designated areas protected by a physical barrier are exempted from wearing a mask or face covering.
Outdoor settings and indoor spaces not open to the public are also exempted. And restaurant patrons won’t have to wear a mask or face covering while eating on a patio.
“York Regional Council remains committed to our residents’ health and safety,” said York Region Chairman and CEO Wayne Emmerson.
“Businesses open to the public have worked diligently to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Face masks or coverings will play a key role in the continued successful re-opening of the economy and to safeguard our residents and visitors.”
Georgina Mayor Margaret Quirk is supportive of the measure and urges residents to adapt to the new normal.
“We know that wearing a mask is not always comfortable, or even popular with many. But these unusual times have required us to take actions that we typically wouldn’t have considered before,” said Mayor Quirk in an email statement to The Post.
“This was a lengthy discussion at Regional Council, and we hope that with increased education and awareness, people will support this. Keeping the public safe has always been our number one priority, and every bit that we are each able to do will put us another step closer to fully re-opening.”
Despite some negative comments on social media, most Georgina residents appear to be supportive of the decision.
Still, there are some concerns that front-line workers will have to enforce the new rules.
Steve Jacobson, chair of the Jackson’s Point BIA, says it’s unfair to ask part-time employees to police customers who don’t want to wear a mask.
“I’m scared for these people,” says Mr. Jacobson, who also co-founded SOS Georgina, a volunteer organization that sews cloth face masks for front-line workers and residents, with proceeds going to charity.
“I can see it already on Facebook. People are saying that they will not wear a mask. So you got this part-time employee standing at the front of Sobeys confronting these people. It’s not going to work.”
He also believes that the region hasn’t provided enough lead-time – just one week – for retailers and volunteer organizations, like SOS Georgina, to prepare for the rush on masks.
“Watch what happens tomorrow. They’ll be out of masks in every store up here in 10 minutes. I’m not against what they’re doing. But you got to give people time. You got to give stores time to get inventory.”
To find out more about the new mask and face-covering rules, visit www.york.ca/mandatorymasks