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Public Health 'encourages' but doesn't 'recommend' public wear a mask in certain situations

Guelph City Council meeting hears that masks could help stop spread of the wearer's droplets in situations where physical distancing is difficult
Village Media file photo

Local Public Health officials stopped short of “recommending” the use of masks in public Monday. Instead they “strongly encouraged” their use.

Chris Beveridge, the director of public health for Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health, took part in a COVID-19 update at a virtual meeting of Guelph City Council.

During his official presentation to council Beveridge showed a list of points that included: “When physical distancing can not be maintained, non-medical mask use (including people without symptoms) is encouraged,”

In a follow up question to his presentation, Ward 6 councillor. Dominique O’Rourke asked if the language around wearing masks she was hearing was stronger than the public has heard from Public Health in the past.

“Is that non-medicinal mask use a change in position we should be aware of?” O’Rourke asked Beveridge, later asking if it was now a “ recommendation from Public Health?”

Beveridge’s response was that it wasn’t a change in position.

“I think it should be strongly encouraged,” keeping in line with the provincial Ministry of Health stance, he said.

“It would be for where you can’t keep your physical distance from somebody else and want to contain your droplets,” Beveridge said.

He stressed they worked as a barrier to one’s own droplets being spread rather than a barrier to the droplets of others.

“Then I’m not spreading, potentially, what I have, for example,” Beveridge said.

The mask discussion came at the end of a presentation by Beveridge, with some assistance by Associate Medical Officer of Health Dr. Matthew Tenenbaum.

It covered the statistical situation, ongoing mitigation measures and “risk-informed reopening.”

Public Health officials and city staff cautioned that any recovery from COVID-19 is going to take time: months and perhaps years.

“To do this safely and reopen the community will take time,” said Beveridge, adding that “you can’t just flip a switch.”

“There will be a new normal, but it’s hard to say what the new normal will be,” he said.

He cautioned that all workplaces will have to implement various types of mitigation measures as they reopen.

Dr. Tenenbaum said that physical distancing is “the most important tool in our tool kit.”

A likely “second wave” will hit to some extent and that might be made worse because of the arrival of flu season in the fall, Dr. Tenenbaum said.

Beveridge said everyone at WDG Public Health is currently working on the COVID-19 situation, meaning any other programs and services Public Health looks after – from inspecting swimming pool to restaurants  are getting no attention right now.

As the situation improves, Public Health will assess and decide what programs to reactivate and when.