City council will consider amendments to the mandatory mask bylaw to create designated outdoor “zones” where they must be worn and to cover the common areas of condominium and apartment buildings at its next meeting Wednesday.
A report by Anthony Di Monte, the city’s general manager of emergency and protective services, and Medical Officer of Health Dr. Vera Etches recommends extending the bylaw aimed at stemming the spread of COVID-19 until Halloween, “when the patio season is essentially over.”
The temporary mandatory mask bylaw was passed July 15 and had been scheduled to expire Aug. 26.
Bylaw officers issued 167 verbal warnings and one charge for contraventions among 473 service requests about masks as of Aug. 19.
The current bylaw makes masks mandatory for most people in enclosed public spaces such as stores, places of worship, recreational and health facilities, hotels and municipal facilities and on public transit. Operators of those facilities must issue verbal reminders, post signs and provide hand sanitizer.
But there have been large gatherings outdoors over the spring and summer where maintaining two metres of physical distancing wasn’t possible and masks weren’t worn, posing a “significant risk” of transmission, the report said.
With businesses including those with patios reopening and elementary, secondary and some post-secondary schools welcoming back students as people continue to want to get outside and socialize, “mechanisms to quickly address situations where there is a high risk of transmission are necessary,” the report says.
The proposal is to allow Di Monte to to designate public spaces where masks would have to be worn on specific days of the week during specific hours of the day.
The move would require the medical officer of health’s confirmation that it was needed for public health and safety, and the ward councillor and business improvement area would be notified. The measure would be confined to the smallest area that achieves the aim and would expire within 60 days or sooner.
City staff don’t think such orders would be issued often or for extended periods, but are asking for the authority to issue them so they can act quickly as issues emerge, the report says.
Etches wrote to landlords, building managers and condo corporations on Aug. 6 with a “strong recommendation” that they adopt mask policies in common areas.
But Ottawa Public Health and the city have learned from both residents and building operators that they have not been widely adopted, “putting residents of multi-unit buildings at risk, particularly those who are among the most vulnerable of the city’s population.”
The amendment would cover entrances, lobbies, laundry rooms, elevators and gyms.
Wearing a mask in indoor public spaces and when unable to remain two metres from others — along with physical distancing, hand washing and self-isolating when sick — is key to preventing COVID-19 outbreaks as schools and workplaces reopen, the report reiterates.
A recent spike in cases “served as a stark reminder of the potential for this virus to spread if it is given the opportunity to do so,” the report said, adding “it is likely that, without mask use, the recent increase in people diagnosed with COVID-19 could have been much worse.”
Dr. Doug Manuel, senior scientist with the clinical epidemiology program at The Ottawa Hospital Research Institute and a University of Ottawa professor, said an accumulation of research showed masks were both effective and well-received.
Epidemiological models suggest upward pressure on transmission as kids return to school coupled with many of their parents returning to their workplaces and the loss of the benefit of spending more time outdoors as temperatures drop.
“All the epidemiologists’ models are very concerned about this fall, so we have to really maximize everything we’ve got, especially the easy wins and the things that we know for sure like masks, hand washing and physical distancing,” Manuel said.
With current levels of transmission, local projections for hospitalizations this fall are relatively flat, but increase the spread by even one-fifth “and then it just goes off the graph … literally. COVID-19 is so tricky. It has got this explosive, exponential potential,” Manuel said, and case numbers are not going down quickly.
“Thankfully, we’re not going up, but the difference between being flat and going up and down is so subtle. You don’t have to have much more transmission and we’re going to really run into problems.”
Orléans Coun. Matthew Luloff, a member of the community and protective services committee, said he would continue to back public health officials while Stage 3 of the province’s economic reopening means increased opportunities for prolonged contact with others.
“Now it’s more important than ever that we’re following public health guidelines because we don’t want to see a resurgence now that more risky activity is happening,” Luloff said.
“It’s about praising the efforts so far, but also reminding people that this certainly isn’t over, and, the more vigilant we are now, the better chances that we’re not going to see a second wave.”