SUDBURY - On Wednesday, it became mandatory for all commercial establishments in the Sudbury district, including public transit, to have in place a policy that requires patrons to wear a face covering.
The new policy has been met with both support and disdain from members of the community, with some people saying they will “do whatever it takes” to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and others bristling at the word “mandatory,” expressing concern about their rights.
Others went as far as comparing our new reality with a “dystopian” future, adamant that they would not comply with the rule – but that was all on social media.
In terms of what was actually happening on the ground – well, it really depends on where you looked.
A number of local establishments have gone full tilt with the new policy, establishing manned stations at front entrances to inform the public and ask that they wear a face mask when they enter the building.
On the other hand, some establishments have posted policies on their windows, but they aren’t doing much – if anything at all – to uphold the new rules.
The new instructions were issued by Dr. Penny Sutcliffe, Medical Officer of Health at Public Health Sudbury and Districts, on Friday, July 3, under the authority of the Provincial Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act.
Under the requirement, most commercial establishments that are “openly accessible to members of the public,” including malls, convenience stores, restaurants, and taxis, must create a no-mask, no-service policy.
At the same time, they will not necessarily be required to enforce it.
“There aren’t any face-covering police anywhere, whether you’re talking about Ottawa, Windsor, Kingston, or Sudbury,” said Dr. Sutcliffe.
“It is mandatory for commercial establishments to have a policy in place, but we are relying on good faith and best effort enactment and enforcement.”
This means that businesses are not required to turn someone away if they are not wearing a face covering; it is just mandatory for the establishment to have a policy in place.
“We do have a policy in place, and we have a container of disposable face masks available for anyone who doesn’t have one, but if people choose not to wear one, then we are making sure that all other protocols are followed, especially staying at least six feet away. We only allow three customers in our store at one time,” said Evelyn Davie, owner of Stage & Street located on Elgin Street downtown.
“The problem is that there has been so much conflicting information about face masks since the beginning of the pandemic that there is still a lot of confusion about when we should wear them and why.”
Stage & Street, a costume design store, has been making custom-made masks for the Sudbury community since the lockdown began in March. Since the announcement that it would become mandatory for people to wear masks in commercial establishments, the number of orders they’ve been receiving has skyrocketed.
“In all my years of running this store, I have never had a lineup out front. We’ve had to bring in extra help to keep up with the demand because it’s been too much for me to handle on my own,” said Davie.
Other stores, like Chapters in New Sudbury, are also offering disposable masks at the door, but customers are required to pay $1 to use them. If they don’t have $1 on hand, they can pay on their way out of the store at the cash.
While Davie said that most of her customers are being respectful of her policy, other stores in the downtown core are hit and miss.
According to one customer who went into an Elm Street store without a mask on, no one stopped him.
“I have a bunch of them in my bag, and I have gloves, too, but I didn’t wear one into the store. No one said anything to me,” he said.
“I keep them with me just in case, and I’ve given them to all my family and friends.”
Both Best Buy and Marshall’s in New Sudbury had a lot of success on the first day. According to employees, about 90 to 99 per cent of people agreed to wear a face covering to enter the premises.
At Chapters, only one person chose to enter the store without a face mask, while some people turned and walked out when they discovered that it was mandatory.
Security guards at the New Sudbury Centre are taking an educational approach. Anyone who isn’t wearing a mask could be stopped to be politely informed about the new restrictions.
Many stores within the mall are enacting their own policies that they enforce on their own terms. Zack’s, for example, has posted a sign indicating that they will decline to serve customers who do not wear a face covering.
Although Greater Sudbury, Manitoulin Island, and Sudbury districts do not currently have any actives cases of COVID-19, Dr. Sutcliffe said that the new requirement is meant to “preserve the wins that we have had so far.”
“We had to lock down our bodies during this pandemic by keeping our bodies in our homes and staying separate from one another. Now, we are trying to figure out how to lock down our mouths and our noses so that we can leave our homes, but we don’t go backwards, like they’ve done in Australia, for example,” said Dr. Sutcliffe.
It was recently announced that Australia has put the city of Melbourne back under lockdown while they battled a second wave of the virus.
“I really think that this is about kindness, compassion, and recognizing that we are responsible for the physical, economic, and social health of our communities,” she said.
Yesterday, The Sudbury Star polled the community and asked whether wearing a face mask in public should become mandatory.
In 24 hours, more than 1,000 people responded to the poll, with more than 50 per cent of the community saying “no.” Forty per cent of people said that masks should be required in public, while 5 per cent said they weren’t sure, and 2 per cent gave another response.
On the Star’s Facebook page, many voiced their opinions.
“Everybody wants services and activities to resume, but many are still not willing to wear a friggin [sic] face covering for a short period of time to help things along,” wrote one commenter.
“Unless you have medical issues, there is no reason not to wear one unless you are selfish. It’s not an infringement on your rights. It’s a pandemic and a global emergency and it’s temporary.”
Others strongly disagreed. Some question the timing of the policy while others expressed confusion about whether face masks are effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19.
“Why are they asking us now? Little late. Let’s wear band-aids in case we get cut. We have no cases without enforcing mandatory masks,” said one commenter.
The City of Greater Sudbury issued a press release on July 7 advising the public to call 311 if they think that a business is not complying with the new law requiring them to have a policy to stop people from coming in without a mask.
Dr. Sutcliffe emphasized that while there are some misunderstandings, this new policy was not created to punish people – it’s about creating an environment where Greater Sudbury can put the brakes on COVID-19.
She also said that nothing was set in stone in terms of future policies.
“My short answer to you is that everything is on the table. We don’t know what Stage 3 will bring and what kind of requirements will be in place. We have to work within the provincial framework,” said Dr. Sutcliffe.
“I don’t have a vaccine at the health unit right now. As soon as we can start being more protected through other measures, we won’t have to use face coverings anymore. Right now, we can take these pretty simple measures to protect ourselves.”
- Colleen Romaniuk, Local Journalism Initiative, Sudbury Star