Dr. Kit Young-Hoon, the medical officer of health for the Northwestern Health Unit, said wearing masks at indoor public places will be mandatory starting August 17.
“NWHU is requiring every business and organization that has an enclosed space accessible to the public to have a mandatory mask use policy,” Young-Hoon said in a press release. “Over the next few weeks we will be working with our partners and local businesses to ensure they receive the support and resources needed to implement this change.
Young-Hoon, who was on leave for one year and just resumed her position back this week, said this decision comes after consulting with municipalities in the northwest and based on evidence that widespread use of mandatory masks can reduce the transmission of COVID-19 and therefore reduce the impact on our communities.
“We hope by increasing the number of people that wear masks indoors, we can reduce the spread of COVID-19 and increase the likelihood that we can stay in stage 3, that local businesses continue to open and that schools and daycares can continue to stay open," Young-Hoon said.
Over the past two weeks, municipalities across Ontario have been adopting an indoor mask policy to decrease the likelihood of COVID-19 spreading.
Young-Hoon said as communities reopen following stage 3, there will be an increased risk of transmission of COVID-19 due to possibilities for close contact with others.
In a press release, the NWHU said they hope this approach normalizes mask use in advance of a potential second wave of the virus later this year. The use of face coverings must be paired with other personal protective measures including physical distancing, hand washing, avoiding touching your face, and staying home if you are sick, the press release stated.
Young-Hoon also said the NWHU will be changing the way they report on new COVID-19 cases. This change was implemented because of the need to optimize privacy to make sure individuals are protected as much as possible.
“It is important to note that individual case results or announcements do not actually change what people should be doing,” Young-Hoon said. “The best way for individuals to protect themselves is to maintain a physical distance from anyone outside their social circle, wear masks when physical distancing is difficult, wash your hands frequently and avoid touching your face and get tested if you develop symptoms and stay home if you are sick."
In face of this policy, the NWHU updated their COVID-19 table to only show the active numbers in the regions. According to the NWHU, this is done to reduce the stigma and the negative connotations associated with those who test positive. There will be no identification of any individuals who test positive because information such as age and gender can be used to identify them, according to Young-Hoon.
Young-Hoon said there should be the assumption that COVID-19 exists within each community and test results should not change that. Young-Hoon added that in if someone tests postive, the NWHU does extensive contact follow-up, where contacts are identified and individually contacted to make sure they have information around testing, isolation and quarantine.
“If we do think there is a scenario where a large number of people are affected, the larger community needs to be informed about specific or higher risk within a work place or a public setting,” Young-Hoon said. “We are looking at each case individually and trying to assess risk."
Young-Hoon said NWHU will continue to support businesses and organizations to protect their workers and the public during the time of change. Resources and information to help implements the new mandatory masking order will be made available and provided to the public and all businesses, organizations and workplaces, and will be found on the NWHU website in the upcoming weeks, the press release said.