The provincial government declined Monday to issue a blanket order that people wear masks in indoor settings, shrugging off a request from GTA municipalities who requested a formal provincial policy.
In a letter Monday, the mayors and chairs of the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area municipalities asked the province to issue a mandatory face covering measure for large municipalities.
“Public health officials have been clear that keeping your distance, at least six feet or two metres, from others is the best way to prevent the spread of the virus. Those same officials have also been clear that when people can't keep their distance, they should wear a fabric mask or face covering,” the municipal leaders wrote in their letter. “Every person wearing a face covering properly is protecting those around them from the risk of virus spread.”
They added that Ontario is “at a critical time in the fight against COVID-19 and that “we must do everything we can to avoid flare-ups of the virus in our communities.”
However in a statement issued to CP24, Health Minister Christine Elliott’s office said a blanket order around masks is not necessary because municipalities have the power to impose such a measure on their own.
“A provincial policy isn’t necessary as local medical officers of health have the authority to institute the same policy the mayors requested under Section 22 of the Health Protection and Promotion Act,” the statement read. “Doing so at a local level would ensure responsiveness to community needs without applying the same policy to regions with little to no COVID.”
However mayors from a number of cities, particularly around the GTHA, have pointed out that municipalities in the region are highly interconnected and that it is therefore difficult to make different rules for separate municipalities.
Premier Doug Ford has said that a blanket order around masks would be unenforceable and wouldn’t make sense in smaller parts of the province where there are few or no cases of COVID-19.
That idea was echoed Monday by Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Ontario's associate medical officer of health. However she still didn’t rule out the possibility of eventually making masks mandatory.
“It becomes a question of how it would be enforced and also the question is – is this something that’s applicable in every part of the province,” Yaffe said. “Are there parts where it’s not necessary? At this point, we are strongly recommending and encouraging and monitoring, and making it mandatory is a consideration if we feel it’s appropriate.”
While many spaces across the city are requiring shoppers and patrons to don masks, it is not a government rule in most settings, though the city has said that it will require riders to wear masks or face coverings while on the TTC starting as of July 2.
Toronto Mayor John Tory told CP24 earlier Monday that he wants a GTA-wide agreement requiring or encouraging mask use in most settings.
“People have come to understand that the best way you can protect other people from the possibility you have the virus and are spreading it through water droplets is wearing a mask,” Tory said.
He previously said that the City of Toronto did not have the legal authority to mandate mask use, but other Ontario jurisdictions, such as the Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health Unit, have done just that.
In Markham, Mayor Frank Scarpitti has asked York Regional Council to enact such a measure, requiring mask use in all indoor settings.