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Local health unit is asking the public to be respectful of mask use exemptions

July 30, 2020   ·   0 Comments

Following the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit’s implementation of mandatory masks, there’s been backlash from both sides.

Some residents argue the use of masks should be eliminated or ignored because they believe they’re ineffective, while others argue the measures aren’t going far enough and the enforcement needs to be stronger.

High levels of compliance is the goal, but Simcoe Muskoka’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Charles Gardner said its critical to strike a balance with mandatory mask use to avoid conflict or an aggressive confrontation.

“I would ask that people be compassionate if they see individuals who are not wearing a mask and assume the best, assume that they have a valid exemption for not wearing a mask and in no way treat them in any kind of a negative fashion,” he stressed.

“I’ve heard from a number of people that they experience that kind of thing. In some instances they had a medical reason for not wearing a mask and yet felt discriminated against in this way.”

Tolerance is key, according to Dr. Gardner.

Overall, compliance with mandatory mask use has been strong in Simcoe Muskoka but around 100 calls have came in to the public health unit, divided between those who oppose masks and those who are concerned with people not wearing them.

The public health unit says they received a similar number of calls from individuals complaining about employees or patrons of businesses not wearing masks inside.

Children under two shouldn’t be wearing a mask and those under five who can’t tolerate one are exempt as well, according to the health unit’s mandatory mask order. Also, employees working behind a plexiglass barrier or individuals with religious observances are exempt.

“In no way are the operators of these premises to ask in detail why people are exempt, you should accept if an individual indicates they are exempt based on the criteria and not ask further about the details of it,” Dr. Gardner noted.

“We’ve made allowance for a best effort approach so that an operator is not required to turn people away if they refuse to wear a mask and although we recognize that there’s some businesses that have made it their policy to turn people away, we are not requiring that they do so, we want to avoid overt conflict situations.”

Meanwhile, case counts in Simcoe Muskoka are remaining relatively low with just 34 out of 652 cases presently active, as of press time. This accounts for a 90 per cent rate of recovery.

New Tecumseth is doing even better. The recovery rate there currently sits at 98 per cent among its 81 cases.

Over the past three weeks only one new person has been infected in New Tecumseth and since the start of July, new cases total four.

Comparatively, the Town saw nearly 30 cases through the month of June and just over 30 in May.

Despite the remarkably low rate of infections locally, it’s important that residents don’t become complacent about control measures designed to limit COVID-19’s spread, said Dr. Gardner.

“We do have evidence now… with restaurant dining indoors and the use of bars indoors, there’s the potential for transmissions and we have seen outbreaks associated with bars in other jurisdictions in the world, including Montreal,” he noted.

“There’s now an upswing happening in Calgary, so the potential is there for us, we need to be very careful about those locations, those venues.”

Evidence of a lack of complacency among young people is evident as infection rates are rising in that demographic, Dr. Gardner noted.

Last weekend, police busted a party with over 200 people in Brampton, violating Ontario’s guidelines for gathering restrictions.

“This could be part of the reason why we’re seeing an elevation in young people as cases,” said Dr. Gardner in reference to an increase in house parties and more young people gathering in large groups.

“Some people feel complacent about young cases because they’re less likely to be severe but they can still be severe,” he warned.

Dr. Gardner noted that serious cases are much less common among young people, although not impossible. The main concern is young people can still transmit the virus in their community, keeping it in circulation and putting those who are vulnerable to COVID-19 at risk.

By Sam Odrowski
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter


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