Public, employees will need to mask-up in township buildings
By Chad Ingram
The Township of Minden Hills is creating a non-medical mask or face covering policy that will apply to its employees, as well as members of the public, within municipal facilities.
Councillors discussed the
creation of that policy during a special July 23 meeting, councillors
participating in the meeting remotely using online conferencing platform
Zoom, with it broadcast on YouTube.
As a report from township chief administrative officer/clerk Trisha McKibbin indicated, as of July 13, the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge Health Unit gave instruction that the operators of any indoor public spaces or indoor businesses have a written policy in place regarding the requirement for visitors to wear non-medical face masks or face coverings, amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The draft policy for Minden Hills reads that all
customers entering a municipal building are required to wear a
non-medical mask or face covering; that all employees are required to
wear a non-medical mask or face covering while working in a municipal
building while interacting with the public; and that
employees and members of the public will be required to wear face masks, even if there is a Plexiglas barrier between them.
the draft policy states that township employees will wear face masks or
coverings while off-site when representing the township, and that in
situations where it is difficult for employees to maintain physical
distancing of two metres, it is recommended that face coverings be worn.
Exceptions, as suggested by the health unit, and included in the draft policy were: a child under the age of two years; a child under the age of five years, who cannot be persuaded to wear a mask; someone unable to remove their mask without assistance; someone “unable to wear a mask for medical reasons, such as but not limited to, respiratory disease, cognitive difficulties, and/or difficulties in hearing or processing information. No one is required to disclose a medical condition or reason why they are exempt from wearing a mask”; or someone who is “unable to wear a face covering for any religious reason.”
“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,” the draft policy read. “No one will be denied service if they can’t wear a mask.”
Councillor Jennifer Hughey wondered what constituted a religious reason, and if there were any details around that.
McKibbin explained the language had been taken directly from the health unit’s framework.
“We did not lay out within the policy any specific details of what that means, we did just leave it as a general requirement,” she said.
Bob Carter said he thought the policy needed to be amended in a few
ways, including the denial of entry into municipal facilities for those
without face masks, and removal of the religious exemption entirely.
“Unfortunately, the information or the guidance that we’re getting from the public health units seems to be influenced by politics and social sciences, instead of research and medicine,” Carter said. “So we end up being left with a message that is both fragmented and muddled, and that the public can’t understand.”
Carter emphasized that a pandemic involving what can be a deadly virus is still happening, and that scientific research indicates face masks can help prevent its spread.
“All research shows that masks work,” he said. “Non-medical masks don’t necessarily protect you, they’re protecting the people that are around you.”
While there are some legitimate medical reasons people can’t wear face masks, Carter said they’re very rare.
“So, I agree there are some medical reasons, but there are very few medical reasons why somebody cannot wear a mask,” he said.
Carter especially took exception to the exemption for reasons of religion.
“ ... the religious reasons, in particular, they’re not science,” he said, adding that most major religions are actively promoting the use of face masks.
“This guidance is not consistent with public health units across Ontario,” he continued, adding that in other health unit jurisdictions, religious exemptions only apply when people are within religious buildings and partaking in religious ceremonies that require face masks to be removed.
“It’s not a general, hey, I’ve got a religious reason, I don’t have to wear a mask anywhere,” Carter said. “ ... What religion would say, go forth and act recklessly and harm your fellow human beings on the planet? You know, we don’t have religious exemptions for speeding, drunk driving, discharging firearms recklessly, so that’s completely ludicrous, as far as I’m concerned.”
“I would think that this policy should be altered to say that we’ll deny entry to anybody who’s not wearing a mask, and we will deal with those on an exceptional basis,” Carter said.
The majority of council seemed to agree with Carter’s suggestions, and a revised draft of the policy will come back to the council table.