On Wednesday, July 8th Regional Chair Bradley called a special meeting to consider a regional mandatory mask by-law in public indoor spaces. Such a by-law would be temporary but allow for a consistent mask policy across all 12 of Niagara’s municipalities, including Pelham.

Currently, there are seventeen municipalities across Ontario where masks are mandatory. St. Catharines has already approved this and is finalizing a draft Monday. If successful, they’ll join the Niagara Parks, Brock University, Niagara Health and a variety of local business who have already implemented a mandatory mask policy.

So, depending on where you are, where you shop, what you are doing, or what town/city you may happen to be in – you may or may not have to wear a mask indoors. Clear as mud. What happened to the “Niagara together” approach that worked so well for us?

I’ve listened carefully to both cases for or against mandatory masks. I’ve also done an online poll to hear directly from residents as to whether they support this. The results were divided.

Those who were strongly opposed, often expressed concern that wearing a mask is an infringement on personal freedoms. I’ve even received emails stating that the government and state controlled media are using the Coronavirus as a tyrannical weapon of fear to kill off small business and the middle class. (I’m not entirely sure how to respond to that one.) I understand the concern for person freedom, but as a Board of Health we have to focus on the health of the community. Surely wearing a mask, although inconvenient or uncomfortable, is worth the potential of saving a life?

Some opponents have insisted that masks deprive people of oxygen or can create lethal doses of toxic gas. This is not supported by science. And if we think about this, health care professionals wear masks every day for hours on end without issue. It just doesn’t make sense.

I’ve also heard that masks would be detrimental to our business community. In a survey by the South Niagara Chamber of Commerce, 61% of businesses were actually in favour of mandatory masks. They cited concern for the health and safety of colleagues, employees, customers, families and friends. Some also indicated that they don’t want to argue with people as to why they need to wear a mask. They can simply defer to the bylaw.

The most pressing reason we should do this is that we’re simply not out of the woods yet. COVID is still a threat and we can’t risk a relapse. A third of Niagara’s businesses say they may need to close. Our unemployment rate has skyrocketed. Our children are stuck at home, seniors have been locked up in the hospital or in long term care without visitors, and more importantly 62 people have died. The cost is too great.

A mandatory by-law is not about forcing people to wear masks who can’t. It’s about staying vigilant against a virus that has crippled us in both human and economic terms. It’s also temporary. The proposed by-law would expire October 1st. If we “flatten the curve” or “crush the curve” or whatever you want to call it, then by that date I expect it would be lifted. And despite the concern over enforcement, we’ve had very little enforcement with mandated limitations to in-person gathering. Instead we focused on education, and it worked! You don’t wear a mask to protect yourself from other people, you wear it to be considerate, respectful and mindful of the health of others.

I’ve been consistent on this issue. I’m supportive. It’s temporary, it has the ability to prevent spread, and it’s effective. Plus, it’s gotten the overwhelming support from the medical community such as Dr. Hirji from Niagara Region Public Health, Dr. Tam who is Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, and also the World Health Organization. There’s a wave of municipalities and public health units putting this in place. It’s just one tool available to us to keep the most vulnerable people in our community protected.  It’s time Niagara stepped up and took leadership on this issue. #maskupniagara