Frequently Asked Questions: EOHU Directive for Mandatory Masking in Enclosed Public Spaces

In order to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 as more businesses and services open up in our region, the Eastern Ontario Health Unit (EOHU) has issued a Directive making the use of masks by members of the public MANDATORY in enclosed (indoor) public spaces.

Below are answers to commonly asked questions about the mandatory mask Directive. Please visit this page regularly, as it will continue to be updated with the latest information.

General Questions About the Mandatory Mask Directive

When are masks becoming mandatory in the EOHU’s region?
Why make masks mandatory now?
What is the scientific evidence to support the Directive for mandatory masks?
Who must wear a mask under the Directive?
What is considered an enclosed public space?
Is mask use mandatory in apartment buildings, condominiums or other multi-unit residences?
Are there other spaces where masks will be mandatory?
Will exemptions be made for individuals who cannot wear a mask?
Can a mask be removed temporarily while in an enclosed public space?

General Questions About Masks

What is a mask?
How do masks protect against COVID-19?
What type of mask should I wear?
Where can I get a mask in Eastern Ontario?
How do I make my own mask?
How do I fit, wear, remove and clean or dispose of a mask?
Can I wear a face shield instead of a mask?
Do I still need to keep a 2-metre distance from others if I am wearing a mask?
Do I need to wear a mask while exercising at a gym or while playing a sport?

Businesses and Organizations
What are the responsibilities of business and organization owners/operators?
Who is defined as the operator of a business or organization under this Directive?
Are both business staff and customers subject to fines?
What should my staff tell a customer/client that arrives without a mask?
Can businesses or operators require proof of exemption?
As a business operator, do I have a right or obligation to refuse entry to someone who isn’t wearing a mask?
What is expected of employees who see customers remove their mask, without reason, for long periods of time?
What is expected of employees if a customer/client becomes aggressive about the need to wear a mask?
What about customers/clients who are deaf or hard of hearing and rely on lip-reading?
Do staff need to wear a mask in areas not accessible to the public?
Do staff need to wear a mask during meetings?
Once a business is closed to the public (after hours), do staff stocking shelves need to be masked?
Are religious officiants exempt from wearing a mask when leading a ceremony?

When are masks becoming mandatory in the EOHU’s region?

The EOHU’s Directive is effective as of July 7, 2020 at 12:01 A.M. However, there will be an enforcement grace period of one week until July 14th at 12:01 A.M.

No end date has been set at the moment.

Why make masks mandatory now?

There are a number of reasons why this is an important time to adopt mandatory mask use:

  • As more businesses and public spaces open and people increase their contacts, the risk for a rapid rise in COVID-19 infections and outbreaks also increases.
  • A growing body of scientific evidence supports wearing a mask when in enclosed public spaces as an important measure in reducing COVID-19 transmission.

The aim of the mandatory mask directive is to protect our residents and to support the successful re-opening of our local businesses. The adoption of mandatory masks for enclosed public spaces increases our chances of maintaining the progress in limiting the spread of COVID-19 that we have made over the past few months, and preventing the return to closures.

While wearing a mask can be personal inconvenience for some, there is a social responsibility to protect those who are at greater risk for COVID-19, and to help our local businesses safely re-open. Remember: we are in a state of emergency for the pandemic, which will not last forever.

What is the scientific evidence to support the Directive for mandatory masks?

Evidence shows that mask use supported by social norms and government policies is associated with less mortality from COVID-19. Wearing any mask helps to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Benefits are increased when masks are worn properly (securely covering the nose, mouth and chin without gapping). Mask use should be combined with other protective measures, such as physical distancing, handwashing, not touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands, and staying home if you are sick.

Who must wear a mask under the Directive?

Any customer, client, employee, or visitor who enters an enclosed public space accessed by the public must wear a mask or face covering.

See exemptions for individuals who cannot wear masks. No person should be required to provide proof of exemption.

What is considered an enclosed public space?

An enclosed public space is defined as any enclosed or indoor space that members of the public can access. Examples include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Restaurants, cafés, cafeterias, banquet halls
  • Churches, mosques, synagogues, temples, or other places of worship
  • Libraries, museums, art galleries, recreational facilities, bingo halls, community centres and halls, cinemas, theatres, concert venues, special event venues, convention centers, or other similar entertainment, cultural, or leisure facilities
  • Sports facilities, sports clubs, gyms, yoga studios, dance studios, and stadiums
  • Common areas of hotels, motels, or short-term rental premises such as lobbies, elevators, meeting rooms (where physical distancing of 2 metres between participants cannot be maintained), rest rooms, laundry rooms, gyms, and kitchens
  • Public and private transportation including taxis and rideshare services
  • Common areas of hospitals and independent health facilities, such as lobbies, waiting rooms, food courts and retail establishments within these facilities
  • Personal service settings (spas, hair salons, barbers, nail salons, and other personal service settings)
  • Municipal public spaces
  • Shopping malls
  • Department stores
  • Grocery stores
  • Convenience stores
  • Liquor and beer stores
  • Pharmacies
  • Car dealerships
  • Marinas
  • Clubhouses and other enclosed public spaces at golf courses
  • Gas stations

Is mask use mandatory in apartment buildings, condominiums or other multi-unit residences?

Since apartment buildings, condominiums or other multi-unit residences are private property, it is not mandatory under this Directive to wear a mask in these buildings. However, it is strongly recommended to wear a mask when entering or using common areas of these properties, such as lobbies, stairwells, elevators, shared bathrooms and laundry rooms. Residential building owners or condo boards may choose to implement their own policies within their buildings.

Are there other spaces where masks will be mandatory?

The Directive specifically addresses enclosed/indoor public spaces for mandatory mask use.

However, masks are also highly recommended in any outdoor public spaces where physical distancing may be a challenge or not possible, such as events where crowding may occur.

Will exemptions be made for individuals who cannot wear a mask?

While the EOHU encourages everyone who can wear a mask to do so, exemptions will be made to accommodate individuals who cannot wear a mask due to developmental, medical, occupational or other valid reasons. Examples of exemptions include:

Developmental:

  • Children under two years of age
  • Children under the age of five years either chronologically or developmentally who refuse to wear a mask and cannot be persuaded to do so by their caregiver.

Medical:

  • Individuals with medical conditions rendering them unable to safely wear a mask, including breathing difficulties, cognitive difficulties, mental health issues, claustrophobia or difficulties in hearing or processing information.
  • Individuals who are unable to apply or remove a mask without assistance, including those who are accommodated under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) or who have protections under the Ontario Human Rights Code, R.S.O. 1990, c.H.19, as amended.

Occupational:

  • Staff working alone in enclosed areas
  • Staff working with others where a distance of 2 metres is naturally maintained at all times
  • A person who is employed by or is an agent of the Operator of an Enclosed Public Space and:
    • is in an area of the premises that is not designated for public access, or
    • is within or behind a physical barrier (e.g. Plexiglass)
  • Staff who work in hot areas, such as near a deep fryer or an oven
  • Workers who cannot wear masks due to safety reasons (such as drivers or operators of machines where masks could obstruct vision)
  • Workers who cannot wear a mask as their work consists of intensive physical labour, and a mask/face covering would not allow them to breathe adequately

IMPORTANT NOTE: Wherever an exemption from mask use has been granted, physical distancing of at least 2 metres from other people is automatically recommended. No person should be required to provide proof of exemption.

Can a mask be removed temporarily while in an enclosed public space?

Members of the public are permitted the temporary removal of a mask where necessary for the purpose of:

  • receiving services (including eating or drinking when dine-in services are allowed) or
  • while actively engaging in an athletic or fitness activity including water-based activities.

Ensure you wash your hands using soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer before and after removing your mask.

What is a mask?

In the Directive, a mask is defined as a face covering that can filter respiratory droplets, and that securely covers the nose, mouth, and chin without gapping. A mask may be a non-medical mask, medical mask or other face covering (e.g. a bandana, scarf or cloth face covering).

How do masks protect against COVID-19?

Evidence shows that wearing a mask can help protect other people if the mask-wearer is infected with COVID-19, by trapping respiratory droplets in the mask. Since some people may be infected and not know it, whenever people are going out and might come into close contact with other people, they should wear a mask. When you wear a mask, you are helping to protect other people. When other people wear a mask, they are helping to protect you as well.

Wearing a mask is one tool to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. However, it cannot guarantee protection from COVID-19 and should not replace proven measures such as frequent handwashing, avoiding touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands, practising physical distancing and staying at home if you are sick.

What type of mask should I wear?

Non-medical masks are recommended for the general public. There are many types of non-medical masks available including cloth masks that can be washed and reused and disposable masks that can only be worn once. (See Where can I get a mask in Eastern Ontario?)

Medical masks are specialized masks such as surgical masks, medical procedure masks and respirators like N95 masks. Medical masks aren’t recommended for the general public. They should be reserved for health workers and for people who have been advised to wear them by their healthcare provider or public health.

Where can I get a mask in Eastern Ontario?

Individuals can purchase non-medical masks from local vendors and/or make their own mask (See How do I make my own mask?).

If you live in Eastern Ontario and do not have the means to purchase a mask, call us at 613-933-1375 or email info@eohu.ca to find out how to get one.

United Way Facing Forward Project

The United Way East Ontario has worked with the EOHU to launch the FacingForward project to help supply cloth masks to residents in need, such as isolated seniors and the homeless community. You can buy cloth masks in bundles of 25 for your workplace, your family or other groups. Proceeds from your purchase will provide masks to those most in need. More information can be found at: unitedwayeo.ca/facing-forward.

How do I make my own mask?

There are different ways to make cloth masks. Below are a few resources to make your own cloth mask:

How do I fit, wear, remove and clean or dispose of a mask?

It is important to understand that masks have limitations and need to be used safely. The following resources provide information on safe mask use:

Can I wear a face shield instead of a mask?

A face shield (or visor) is NOT a suitable replacement for a mask, and is not recommended as an alternative to a mask except in certain situations. Face shields are not designed to cover the face as snugly as masks, and are therefore inferior to masks at preventing the spread of respiratory droplets.

However, a face shield may be used as an alternative to a mask when a mask cannot be worn for medical or other reasons such as impaired hearing, heat stress, mental health disorders, developmental disabilities or any other reasons described in “Exemptions” in Section 1 of the Directive.

A face shield may also be worn in addition to a mask.

Do I still need to keep a 2-metre distance from others if I am wearing a mask?

Yes. Wearing a mask is not an alternative to physical distancing. Every effort should be made to keep a 2-metre distance even when wearing a mask.

While wearing a mask is one tool that can help prevent the spread of infection, it should not replace proven measures such as physical distancing, frequent handwashing, avoiding touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands, and staying at home if you are sick.

Do I need to wear a mask while exercising at a gym or while playing a sport?

You are not required to wear a mask while you are engaged in physical activity. However, under the Directive, you are required to wear a mask if you are in enclosed public space before and after exercising.

What are the responsibilities of business and organization owners/operators?

Under the EOHU’s Directive, owners and operators of businesses and organizations must:

  • Establish a policy that requires all individuals entering the premises (enclosed public place accessible to members of the public) to wear a mask at all times. A sample policy is available on the EOHU’s website at www.eohu.ca/coronavirus.  
  • The mask may be temporarily removed when essential to receive certain services such as when dining in a restaurant. In such cases, the mask may only be removed when necessary.
  • The policy must be enacted and enforced in good faith and should be used to educate people on mask use in businesses and organizations where physical distancing cannot be maintained.
  • No person shall be required to provide proof of any of the exemptions set.
  • Staff must be trained to act in accordance with the Directive and to advise patrons what they need to do in order to comply:
    • Provide a verbal reminder to any customer entering the premises without a mask that the customer should be wearing one.
    • Provide a verbal reminder of the requirement to wear a mask to any customers removing their mask for extended periods of time.
  • Post, at every public entrance to the premises, prominent and clearly visible signage about the mask requirement. A sample sign is available on the EOHU’s website at www.eohu.ca/coronavirus.    
  • Ensure the availability of alcohol-based hand sanitizer at all entrances and exits for the use of all persons entering or exiting the establishment.
  • Ensure that all relevant Section 22 Orders are complied with.
  • Every Operator of an Enclosed Public Space, upon request, shall provide a copy of the policy to any person authorized to enforce it.

Who is defined as the operator of a business or organization under this Directive?

“Operator” means the person who controls, governs, directs, or is responsible for the activity carried on within the Enclosed Public Space and includes the person who is actually in charge at any particular time.

Are both business staff and customers subject to fines?

Implementation of the policy will be enacted and enforced in ‘good faith’ and will be primarily used as a means to educate people on mask use in public spaces.

What should my staff tell a customer/client that arrives without a mask?

Staff should remind customers/clients of the requirement to wear a mask in indoor public spaces. Staff should direct them to the signage at the entrance and encourage them to put on their mask if they have one. Staff are encouraged to remind individuals to ensure they have a mask for future visits to the establishment. No person should be required to provide proof of exemption.

If a customer is permitted to enter the premises without a mask, they must maintain a minimum physical distance of 2 metres from other persons within the premises.

Can businesses or operators require proof of exemption?

No person should be required to provide proof of exemption.

The Directive provides for listed exemptions and recognizes that no one should be forced to wear a mask if they are not able to wear one. We encourage our community to be thoughtful, respectful and considerate of one another and understand that not everyone can wear a mask safely.

As a business operator, do I have a right or obligation to refuse entry to someone who isn’t wearing a mask?

The Directive does not require or expect businesses to refuse entry to customers or clients who do not wear a mask.

It remains the business operator’s prerogative to allow or deny entry. An operator may choose to refuse entry to persons not wearing a mask in order to protect employees or other clients from COVID-19. Some businesses have corporate policies that will deny entry if a mask is not worn.

What is expected of employees who see customers remove their mask, without reason, for long periods of time?

Employees should remind customers of the need to wear a mask and that removal of mask is only permitted if required to receive a service or during relevant activities (e.g. fitness activity, water-based activity, dining, etc).

What is expected of employees if a customer/client becomes aggressive about the need to wear a mask?

Employees should not be subject to abuse from customers. Employers should have policies that currently address aggressive or abusive customers. Employees can direct customers who wish to express their displeasure or concerns about mandatory masks to contact the Eastern Ontario Health Unit.

What about customers/clients who are deaf or hard of hearing and rely on lip-reading?

There may be situations where someone who is deaf or hard of hearing may require an employee to remove their mask to speak to the customer. We remind anyone removing their mask or face covering to follow safe handling procedures and to keep a distance of 2 metres away from others.

Do staff need to wear a mask during meetings?

Masks are not required if physical distancing of 2 metres can be maintained between meeting participants; masks are required if it isn’t possible to maintain a 2-metre physical distance.

Once a business is closed to the public (after hours), do staff stocking shelves need to be masked?

If the area is closed to the public, staff are not required to wear a mask as long as a 2-metre physical distance can be maintained between employees.

Are religious officiants exempt from wearing a mask when leading a ceremony?

There is limited evidence that shows that singing, speaking or chanting can propel respiratory droplets further than 2 metres away. With masks now being mandatory, we currently recommend the following:

  • The officiant (e.g. minister, rabbi) of a religious ceremony can choose to not wear a mask if standing in an area of the religious space that is separate and at least 4 metres from the public attending the ceremony and using a microphone to project their voice to reduce the risk of respiratory droplets being spread. However, if approaching the public, the officiant must wear a face mask.
  • The officiant should not participate in any singing or chanting unless they are separated from any spectators by plexiglass or some other impermeable barrier.
  • If there is more than one officiant, they should be spaced at least 2 metres apart from each other and not be facing each other.

Adapted in part from Ottawa Public Health.

Eastern Ontatio Health Unit / Bureau de santé de l'Ontario