Over the past two weeks I’ve heard from many of you, both in support and in opposition to a “mandatory mask” order for public spaces.

    I’ve heard many “while Toronto is doing it…” or some other community. This is a refrain I heard about the supposed river front renewal of “Back to the River”, and many other issues from BRT to flex streets, to industrial land use. I want to be very clear, while I will always look at the experiences of other communities and possible lessons learned, my focus will always be on what makes sense for London. The same is true of masks.

    I’ve had a number of people say, “we need to do this now, look Kingston was doing well too and then they had an outbreak of new cases”. It is true, Kingston did have an outbreak, connected to a nail salon where masks were already required under provincial orders. Masks orders did not stop the Kingston outbreak from occurring. Again, while I will look at the experiences of other communities, I will look to do what is best for London.

    I think it is also worth noting that in other communities, action has also been taken in coordination with or directly by the Medical Officer of Health for the regional health units of those communities.

    Last night at Council’s Strategic Priorities Committee, we had a motion brought forward with only 3 hrs notice asking staff to consult with the county and Middlesex-London Health Unit and come back with recommendations for a temporary by-law.

    First, I will say I was very critical of an important motion coming forward on such short notice. This by the way highlights one of the problems with a so-called “part-time” council. Several colleagues were at other jobs and had less than an hour’s notice on this. That is not acceptable.

    We ultimately ended up amending the motion (thank you Councillor Josh Morgan for your leadership on this amendment) to have our Chief Medical Officer of Health come before council at the earliest opportunity to answer our questions about masks, the advisability of by-laws, and what impact, if any, it would have in terms of public health benefit.

    It is critical that everyone remember, the goal has NEVER been ZERO new cases of COVID-19. Without a vaccine, that’s just not practical or realistic. The goal has always been to manage the spread of COVID-19 so that the healthcare system would not be overwhelmed as we saw in other countries.

    There are a number of questions I have about what a mask by-law would even look like in a stage 3 reopening:

    • As we allow people to dine in at restaurants again for example, obviously you cannot eat a meal with a mask on. So are restaurants mandatory for employees but exempt for patrons?
    • Movie theatres are reopening, imagine trying to eat your popcorn lifting your mask every handful, are we looking at exemptions wherever food is served ?
    • Then we have the issue of wearing a mask properly. Worn improperly a mask provides no benefit. If not cleaned regularly, masks are likewise ineffective. How do we ensure masks are worn properly?
    • Some individuals have legitimate underlying medical conditions that prevent them from wearing a mask. Who determines what is a valid reason or not (hint: NO ONE, we cannot ask people for the private medical information, we have privacy laws in Canada)?
    • How would this be enforced? We don’t have a battalion of by-law enforcement officers standing by to writing tickets, and expecting “public shaming” to do the job for us puts those who are legitimately exempt at risk.
    • Do they provide a significant benefit in a stage 3 low spread scenario (vs. high spread active outbreaks), or a false sense of security?

    The both the science and the legal frameworks are frankly very preliminary on this. It is important to keep in mind when other countries enacted mask orders, not only did they do so when their infection rates were much higher, there are different cultural factors involved in other countries. With low infection rates already, is there enough of a benefit to impose this on people? Again we have to look at things in our local context.

    Dr. Mackie has already issued an order under his powers as Medical Officer of Health to require masks in some situations. He has repeatedly said the main benefit from masks seems to come when two or more people are unable to maintain the physical distancing of 2m during interactions of 15min or more. This has to do with what is called “viral load”, and the likelihood of transmission. Dr. Mackie has also already set a metric by which he would use his authority to increase the mandatory use of masks, where the community spread led to 5 or more new cases a day for a two-week period. London is nowhere near that level of spread.

    There is another important factor to consider, Dr. Mackie can issue an order for the region. City Council can only pass a by-law that applies in the city. Thousands of people commute in and out of the city to work, shop, and live daily from our smaller neighbours. How effective can masks be if we aren’t taking a regional approach? It is important to consider as well that neither the federal nor the provincial government has issued mandatory mask orders for all Canadians or all Ontarians. I believe that is in part because they also believe in a regional approach and recognize that London isn’t Toronto or Windsor, nor is it Goderich or Timmins¬.

    When Council has to decide to build or repair a bridge, we listen to our City Engineer. We aren’t engineers, we depend on the expert advice to build a safe bridge.
    Likewise, Council are not doctors. We have from the beginning listened to the advice of our Medical Officer of Health with regard to appropriate steps to contain the pandemic. The results to-date have been very good. And, it is important to recognize if Dr. Mackie felt there were good public health grounds to do so, he could issue an order today to require masks in more places without Council approval.

    So where we stand today is that we will have Dr. Mackie come to Council as soon as possible to present to us his recommendations and reasoning to date. We will listen and we will debate the issue.
    Where that will lead, I don’t know. But I do know this, while councillors may have different views on this value of masks, every single one of us is trying to be thoughtful and do our best for the well being of the community. We also must be balanced and reasonable in what we can practically do.

    There is a level of personal responsibility and accountability that Londoners need to take upon themselves. That means continue physical distancing of 2m from people outside your social/family bubble (which is still recommended to be no more than 10)—it remains the most important thing you can do. When you cannot do that, wearing a mask is VERY STRONGLY recommended. Keep up the regular hand washing. Keep unnecessary trips to a minimum (and especially keep your trips local).

    We’ve all done our part well so far, and it shows. Let’s keep it up, and be respectful toward each other.

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