By Jenna Cocullo, Local Journalism Initiative
In less than 24 hours, more than 150 residents signed a petition to make masks mandatory in Chatham-Kent.
Tera Fox, a former nurse and Chatham-Kent resident, started the petition on Monday and reached 171 signatures. Fox also organized the “Support Mandatory Masks in Chatham-Kent” Facebook group which has almost reached 200 members.
Fox said she is not trying to replace social distancing measures with masks. Rather, she sees masks as a complimentary COVID-19 safety measure and has an issue with CK Public Health pushing the idea that one is more important than the other.
“I am not saying to use them on their own. Going out shopping, I see numerous people not following social distancing. So wearing a mask, to me, helps protect us,” she said.
Dr. David Colby, Chatham-Kent’s medical officer of health, will not be issuing any orders requiring masks to be worn in public spaces. Restaurant staff must wear masks but customers are not required to do so. Both workers and patrons in personal service (i.e. hairdressers and nail salons) must also wear masks.
CK Public Health also “highly recommended” masks be worn on public transit, although it is not mandatory.
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Fox said she sees growing scientific evidence daily that masks are effective.
Colby said he respects the opinion of the petitioners, however, he will not make masks mandatory, despite how many people sign the petition.
“No, it’s not a democracy when it comes to those decisions; it will be based on science,” he said.
Colby acknowledged that masks are not without value, however, the data on masks do not prove that it is effective enough to issue a mandatory order. Colby, who wears a mask himself, said masks are quite invasive and are not beneficial enough to make them a requirement.
“Physical distancing and barriers are far more important and I rather people concentrate on those things. I am afraid people will use masks to relax physical distancing, and not pay attention to physical distancing when it is far more important than wearing a mask is,” he said.
Fox’s other concern was that residents in Windsor-Essex — where there are currently more than 600 active cases and remains in Stage 2 — would come to Chatham-Kent and spread the virus.
Colby said that was the case during Windsor’s Stage 1 reopening while Chatham-Kent was in Stage 2.
“A lot of services opened up that people really wanted like patios, hairdressers and barbers. Those are all open now (in Windsor). I can’t imagine someone is going to come to Chatham-Kent now just to enjoy indoor dining,” he said.
CK Public Health has traced no excess cases that can be attributed to those visits. The jump in cases public health saw over the weekend was from close contacts with existing cases.
READ MORE: Active COVID-19 cases climbing in C-K
“All of our surrounding communities, and all of Ontario, are joining in with mandatory masks,” Fox said. “It just seems logical for us to follow suit at this point. With us being in Phase 3, all this is doing is driving those residents into our community.”
Fox said she would like to see mandatory masks in Chatham-Kent’s public spaces until a vaccine is developed.
“It’s not something that I would want to last forever.”