Health unit clarifies business responsibility to enforce mask rules

By Jenn Watt

The region’s face-mask regulations have been put in the spotlight following the fatal police-involved shooting of a man at his residence north of Haliburton which followed an incident earlier that morning when he refused to wear a mask at Minden’s Valu-Mart. The man is alleged to have assaulted an employee at the grocery store before speeding off in his vehicle to his home where he was in an altercation with the OPP that ended with the man being shot. The details of what happened are under investigation by the province’s Special Investigations Unit.

Comments online and quoted by media indicate that some feel the policy which is intended to reduce the spread of the coronavirus puts workers in a potentially difficult position by enforcing a divisive policy.

At their meeting on July 16 representatives for the board of health for the Haliburton Kawartha Pine Ridge District Health Unit did not wish to comment on the incident as the matter was under investigation.

Asked by the Echo whether a business has an obligation to enforce the mask policy the medical officer of health said the template policy sent out to businesses includes a line that a customer would not be denied service for not wearing a mask.

“We prepared packages with regard to stage 2 [of the province’s reopening plan] and the use of masks. We sent information out to all of the businesses with regard to developing a policy to have in place and in the policy it outlines what we can use to put their best efforts into ensuring people who go into the premises wear a mask and that’s to ask the person to put on a mask if they haven’t got a mask on but that they would not refuse service to the person so … to allow that person into the facility” Dr. Lynn Noseworthy said. “That was the draft template that we shared with all of the businesses. Now what they chose to do with the draft template was their own business and we don’t know what that particular establishment would have used.”

The template distributed to businesses reads: “If a customer refuses to put on a face covering and refuses to leave the premises staff are not required to engage further; there is not a need to turn away or remove a customer to achieve the best effort standard.”

In other materials from the health unit distributed alongside the template policy it answers the question “Can a person be refused service for not wearing a non-medical mask or face covering?” like this: “The requirement should be enforced in ‘good faith’ and any person not wearing a mask will receive a verbal reminder from the staff of the establishment.”

Businesses that do not comply with the health unit requirements could be fined.

Face masks are used to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 by blocking respiratory droplets from entering the air.

Andrea Roberts mayor of Dysart et al and a member of the board of health said the incident was very sad and demonstrated the level of stress people are under. She said store owners don’t know why certain people are refusing to wear masks and that they can’t ask for medical specifics.

As of July 17 the HKPR District Health Unit region has moved into stage 3 of the province’s reopening plan which means more businesses are required to implement the mask rules.

A longer list of establishments includes most indoor places where members of the public congregate including restaurants churches public libraries casinos museums and many others.

Those who are inside but who are no longer “roaming” are allowed to take off their masks the health unit says. For example in a restaurant a mask would be needed to walk to and from the table but not while seated. At an indoor wedding masks would be needed until the guests were seated six feet from one another.

Exemptions for wearing a mask include children under two years old children under five years old who refuse to wear them people who can’t take a mask off without help and people with conditions such as respiratory or cognitive difficulties.