By Sue Tiffin
A mask mandate issued by the Haliburton Kawartha Pine Ridge District Health Unit for July 13 has been met with positive and negative reviews from the public.
“Like all issues we have seen mixed reactions” said Chandra Tremblay spokesperson for the local health unit. “Some people have contacted us to let us know they appreciate the requirement while others have told us in no uncertain terms that they do not agree.”
Face masks are used to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 by blocking respiratory droplets from entering the air.
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.
Business owners have been instructed by the health unit to have a policy requesting customers wear a mask or face covering and to post signs reminding customers that masks should be worn while in the indoor establishment but have also been instructed they can’t turn away customers who cannot or do not wear a mask nor should a business owner or other customer ask why someone can’t wear a mask in order to protect the person’s privacy in the case of health or religious reasons.
Some business owners have cited confusion about their role in enforcing mask-wearing and the potential for them to be fined should they have a customer enter their business without a mask.
“If a customer comes to the business and is not wearing a mask or face covering business owners are asked to use their ‘best effort’ to have them put on a mask” said Tremblay. “This means the customers should be given a verbal reminder about wearing a face mask or covering if they are not wearing a mask. If a customer is seen removing their mask while in the business the business owner or staff should provide a verbal reminder that customers should be wearing a face covering.”
Tremblay said the health unit is working with local bylaw officers as well as police services to provide education about the instructions and the need for a policy and signage to local business owners.
“If the situation arises that enforcement is needed the health unit will work with its partners to issue a ticket” she said. “…Our staff are actively following up with businesses to review and provide education regarding the mask policy instructions. If after repeated discussions a business does not develop a policy or post signage there may be a ticket levied against the business owner and not the individual staff who work there.”
Last week a new alert on the health unit website reminded site users that the health unit would take calls but had zero tolerance for callers using profane abusive or disrespectful language noting that any such calls would not be responded to and that calls that included threats would be reported to the police.
“Any public health program that requires enforcement is always met with mixed reaction” said Tremblay. “Sometimes this reaction can be loud or include inappropriate language.”
Signs at the health unit have long reminded members of the public that they will not be provided service if they speak to staff inappropriately or are being threatening. Now the message has been added to the website too.
“When a caller leaves an angry voicemail or sends an email full of inappropriate language our staff have been directed to not follow up with the person” said Tremblay. “As a result some of these people feel they have been ignored and that makes them angrier. The message on the website lets them know they will not be hearing back from the health unit if they use inappropriate language.”
Tremblay said the health unit’s #InThisTogether messaging has been genuine.
“We need to work together to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 but we also need to remember to be kind and compassionate with each other” said Tremblay. “No two people are experiencing the pandemic in the same way. For some it’s been very challenging emotionally mentally and financially and we need to continue to work to help each other.”
The health unit has heard that some people have felt threatened or stigmatized because they cannot wear a mask.
“This should not be happening” said Tremblay. “The health unit is not asking businesses to stop serving people who cannot wear a mask and it is not asking people to ‘police’ non-mask wearing people when they are out. It is asking for everyone to respect each other and do what they can to help protect themselves their families and their community from the spread of the virus.”
Exemptions for wearing a mask within commercial establishments include children under two those with developmental disabilities who refuse to wear a mask people who are incapacitated or unable to remove a mask without assistance or for other religious or medical reasons including respiratory disease cognitive difficulties or difficulties in hearing or processing information.
More information can be found at: www.hkpr.on.ca or call toll-free at 1-866-888-4577 ext. 5020.