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Hastings and Prince Edward Public Health
woman in grocery store wearing cloth face covering

Face Coverings – Questions and Answers

Please review the media release for more details about the new face covering instruction.

How to safely put on and remove a cloth face mask – demonstration video

What are the updated instructions being given by HPEPH?

The Acting Medical Officer of Health has instructed owners and operators of commercial establishments operating under Stage 2 of the provincial reopening to have policies in place to stop people from entering the establishment if they are not wearing a non-medical mask or face covering. The Acting Medical Officer of Health has instructed owners and operators of all enclosed public spaces operating under Stage 3, that effective Friday July 17, a policy for mandatory face coverings must be in place.

A sample policy template is available for adaption by local establishments.

Please note that municipalities may pass by-laws that have wider implications than instructions issued by the Medical Officer of Health. Please contact these municipalities directly for specific information:

Under what authority are these instructions being issued?

These instructions are being issued by the Acting Medical Officer of Health for HPEPH under the authority of the Ontario Regulation 364/20 – Stage 3 Closures s.4(2), made under the Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Response to COVID-19) Act, 2020 (formerly Ontario Regulation 364/20 – Stage 3 Closures s.4(2) of the provincial Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act (EMCPA)).

When do these instructions come into effect?

Instruction for all enclosed public spaces came into effect at 12:01 am on July 17, 2020.

What is considered an enclosed public space?

Enclosed indoor public space refers to those indoor portions of a premises that are openly accessible to members of the public and include a mall or other structure containing a number of commercial premises, a library or community centre, places of worship, as well as a taxi or limousine service.

What establishments are NOT included in these instructions?

Establishments that do not fall under the definition of an enclosed indoor public space include but are not limited to: Schools, child care centres/camps, business offices that are not open to members of the public, professional offices where clients receive purchased services (e.g., lawyers’ offices) that are not open to members of the public, hospitals, independent health facilities, and offices of regulated health professionals.

Please note that these establishments may be required to comply with other sector-specific directives from the Ministry of Health, which may include face coverings and/or other infection control activities. In addition, some establishments may choose to implement their own their own policies and protocols in place. Please check with the establishment you intend to visit to determine if a face covering is required.

We continue to encourage a non-medical mask or face covering as an additional layer of precaution in all situations where physical distancing may be difficult.

Why has this instruction been expanded to include all enclosed public spaces?

Instruction for mandatory face coverings was initially provided to commercial establishments as it can be challenging to maintain physical distancing in these settings, and there is a higher volume of foot traffic from areas experiencing higher rates of COVID-19. As additional enclosed public spaces with high volumes of traffic are permitted to reopen as part of Stage 3, owners/operators of these spaces are also instructed to develop policies for mandatory face coverings as part of Stage 3 reopening. Commercial and public spaces are likely to have a higher volume of foot traffic from various areas, and additional preventative measures are appropriate in these settings to reduce the risk of transmission. We will continue to monitor the local, provincial, and national situation and make adjustments to our instructions appropriately. 

What is considered to be an appropriate face covering?

A face covering means a non-medical mask or other face coverings such as a bandana, a scarf or cloth (including hijab and niqab) that covers the mouth, and nose ensuring a barrier that limits the community transmission. Face shields are not equivalent to non-medical masks or face coverings for source protection and are best suited to be used as addition personal protection equipment in addition to a non-medical mask or other face covering but not alone.

Why make face coverings mandatory now?

As more businesses and public spaces open and people increase their contacts, the risk of a rapid rise in infections and outbreaks continues to exist. Although the number of cases of COVID-19 in the HPEPH area are currently stable, there continues to be a risk of ongoing spread as the reopening process continues.

Increasing scientific evidence supports wearing a mask when in enclosed public spaces as an important additional preventative measure in reducing COVID-19 transmission. Together with physical distancing, hand and cough hygiene, and staying home when ill, the use of a non-medical mask or face covering in an enclosed public space is an additional public health measure that may help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our communities.

What happens if I don’t wear a face covering?

Every Operator of an Enclosed Public Space will have a policy to ensure that no member of the public is permitted to enter or remain in the public areas of the enclosed public space unless they are wearing a mask in a manner that covers their nose, mouth and chin.

People in an Enclosed Public Space who remove their mask for extended periods of time, will receive a verbal reminder of the requirement to wear a mask under these instructions.

Is anyone exempt from wearing a face covering?

The following people are exempt from the requirements of wearing a face covering while inside:

  • the person is a child under the age of two years; or a child under the age of five years chronologically or developmentally and cannot be persuaded to wear a face covering by their caregiver;
  • the person has a medical condition rendering them unable to wear a non-medical mask or face covering safely;
  • the person cannot apply or remove a non-medical mask or face covering without assistance;
  • the person cannot wear a non-medical mask or face covering or cannot cover their face in a way that would appropriately control the source of droplets for reasons of religion or other protections under the Ontario Human Rights Code, R.S.O. 1990, c. H. 19, as amended;
  • the person is employed by or an agent of the operator of an enclosed public space and that space is:
    • not designated for public access,
    • within or behind a physical barrier (i.e. Plexiglass).

Do I need to provide proof of exemption?

It is the expectation of HPEPH that these instructions will be followed in good faith, and proof of exemption is not required from anyone (including employees) who can not wear a face covering in an enclosed public environment. An exception would include situations where there is a provincial mandate from the Ministry of Health for face coverings (such as long term care, personal service settings, or sector-specific guidance). In these situations, proof of exemption is recommended. We trust everyone in our community to do the right thing to keep our community safe.

Do I need to wear a face covering while waiting in line outside of an enclosed public space?

At this time, there is no requirement to wearing a face covering in outdoor situations where physical distancing is possible. However, we continue to encourage a non-medical mask or face covering as an additional layer of precaution in all situations where physical distancing may be difficult.  If you choose to wait in line without a mask, please ensure that you will be able to put your mask on safely prior to entering the establishment. This means ensuring your mask is clean and try, cleaning your hands before putting on your mask, and ensuring it fits securely over your nose, mouth, and chin.

How is this being enforced?

Effective Friday July 17, every operator of an enclosed public space will have a policy in place to ensure that no individual is permitted to enter or remain in the public areas of the space unless they are wearing a mask in a manner that securely covers their nose, mouth and chin. Employees and operators will provide a verbal reminder to any individual entering the premises without a mask that the customer should be wearing a mask as a result of this directive.

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. If employees/operators have provided a verbal reminder to customers, there is not a need for the establishment to turn away a patron in order to demonstrate best effort has been made to comply with policy.

Public Health Inspectors from HPEPH, as well as municipal bylaw and local police officers will be involved in providing additional education and enforcement to operators of Enclosed Public Spaces.

Are both establishment owners/operators and patrons subject to fines?

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.

As per the Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Response to COVID-19) Act, 2020, those businesses that do not comply with the requirements may be liable for a fine of $750 to $1,000 for an individual, to a maximum of $100,000 or in the case of a corporation, not more than $10,000,000 for each day or part of each day on which the offence occurs or continues.

Can I remove my mask or face covering if physical distancing is not a concern in the establishment or enclosed public space I am visiting?

Members of the public are permitted the temporary removal of a mask where necessary for the purpose of:

  • receiving services (including eating or drinking when dine-in services are allowed) or
  • while actively engaging in an athletic or fitness activity including water-based activities.

Ensure you wash your hands using soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer before and after removing your mask or face covering.

How do I wear a face covering properly when at the gym or exercising in an enclosed public space?

When participating in indoor physical activity/exercise, face coverings should be used by patrons and staff, as frequently as can be tolerated. If an activity or exertion level does not allow for a face covering, members of the public are permitted to remove their face covering temporarily, but should put it on again when the strenuous activity is complete (for example: when stretching, travelling through shared space).

Both patrons and staff should wash their hands using soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer before and after removing a face covering. Physical distancing must continue to take place in shared indoor spaces such as gyms, and frequent hand washing should be encouraged.

How and when should face coverings be used in indoor dining settings?

Members of the public are permitted to temporarily remove their face covering where necessary for the purpose of receiving services such as eating or drinking. HPEPH instructs that patrons keep face coverings on until they are seated at a table, and wear face coverings any time they are moving through a shared space (to/from table, restroom, etc.). Staff at dining establishments must always wear face coverings when in a public space. 

All individuals must ensure they wash their hands using soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer before and after removing the mask or face covering. HPEPH encourages all patrons to carry hand sanitizer when visiting public spaces, to ensure their hands are clean before touching their face covering.

Are there any other requirements for indoor dining settings?

Individuals must be seated when eating or drinking at any indoor establishment. In addition, the establishment must be configured so that patrons seated at different tables are separated by a distance of at least 2 metres, or by a plexiglass or other impermeable barrier.

Does a performer or public speaker need to wear a face covering?

Public speakers, clergy, auctioneers, performers are permitted to remove their face covering indoors when they need to speak or perform to a group, however they must remain at least 4 metres from the group, and/or separated by an impermeable barrier. In addition, performers or speakers must maintain a distance of 2 metres between themselves and other performers whenever possible.

Social gatherings of 50 people (indoors) and 100 people (outdoors) are permitted as part of Stage 3. Are face coverings required or recommended in these gatherings?

The Acting Medical Officer of Health has instructed owners and operators of all enclosed public spaces operating under Stage 3, that effective Friday July 17, a policy for mandatory face coverings must be in place. Social gatherings in enclosed public spaces are subject to these instructions.

HPEPH continues to recommend a non-medical mask or face covering as an additional layer of precaution in all situations where physical distancing may be difficult.

Public gathering limits apply to indoor and outdoor events, such as community events or gatherings, concerts, live shows, festivals, conferences, sports and recreational fitness activities, fundraisers, fairs, festivals or open houses. A two-metre distance must continue to be maintained at such events. In addition, indoor and outdoor event limits can not be combined.

Who do I call if I want to report an enclosed public space that is not requiring customers wear a face covering?

For more information on HPEPH’s instructions to enclosed public spaces to require the use of masks by patrons or to report a non-complying establishment, review the letter issued on July 15, or you can call HPEPH at 613-966-5500.

Can a person be refused service for not wearing a face covering?

These instructions should be enforced in “good faith” and any person not wearing a mask will receive a verbal reminder from the staff of the establishment. Should the individual refuse to wear a mask after such reminder, the establishment need not refuse access or require proof of exemption.

What is HPEPH doing to support individuals who are unable to wear a face covering?

HPEPH recognizes that certain individuals may be unable to wear or access a face covering. HPEPH does not expect establishments to request proof of exemption from these individuals. HPEPH continues to ask for the cooperation of establishments and community members to carry out these instructions with respect and kindness.

What is the evidence available that supports wearing of face coverings?

Dr. Alexa Caturay, Acting Medical Officer of Health for HPEPH, continues to review emerging evidence, as well as the local environment. Public Health Ontario has compiled a summary of evidence available on masks: COVID-19 – What we know so far about… wearing masks in public.

Face Mask Resources

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