It’s now mandatory to wear a mask in the common areas of Ottawa apartment and condo buildings following an amendment to the local mask bylaw passed at city council Wednesday.
Council passed a motion to extend Ottawa’s mandatory mask bylaw to the end of October amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
As well as giving city staff the power to extend the mask rules to certain outdoor areas of the city where large gatherings are making physical distancing difficult, the restrictions were extended to include anyone entering or staying in the common areas of mutli-unit complexes, including elevators.
Councillors Riley Brockington and Theresa Kavanagh said they’ve heard from residents of their wards, many of whom are older and more vulnerable populations, wondering why masks are required for anyone going shopping in the city but are not being worn in the shared spaces of apartment buildings.
They noted that jurisdictions such as Toronto moved immediately to mandate mask-wearing in such spaces.
Anthony DiMonte, Ottawa’s head of bylaw, said the city’s legal staff were at first unsure of the viability of including these spaces in the purview of the temporary mask bylaw.
And when the bylaw was first enacted in mid-July, the city’s COVID-19 case numbers were trending well and Ottawa Public Health (OPH) officials weren’t certain how extensive the bylaw would need to be to effectively stem the spread of the virus locally.
Since then, Ottawa has seen a spike in cases.
On Wednesday, OPH reported 16 new coronavirus cases for the second day in a row, bringing the city’s total to 2,871 cases since the start of the pandemic.
Ottawa’s number of active cases also rose to 174, with 12 people now in hospital with COVID-19.
Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa’s medical officer of health, told council Wednesday morning that while OPH linked the majority of cases to outbreaks in the beginning of pandemic, August has seen a higher proportion of transmission through individuals’ close household contacts.
She noted that OPH has not declared any outbreaks at bars, restaurants and gyms since they were allowed to reopen earlier this summer, nor has the public health unit traced transmission between individuals on OC Transpo buses or trains.
“We are not seeing outbreaks in settings where people are wearing masks,” Etches said Wednesday.
While this is undoubtedly a positive trend, she noted after the meeting that these areas remain “higher risk” for transmission and that it is possible OPH isn’t detecting the “links” between cases contracted at these settings.
DiMonte also said after the meeting that the bylaw’s newfound powers to mandate masks in outdoor settings might be applied to areas such as the ByWard Market, where nightly lineups outside of bars on Clarence Street have been highlighted as high-risk areas for transmission.
If applied, rules for wearing masks in these areas would be timed only around hours of high concentration, and would no longer be mandatory during regular hours of the day.
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