MIDDLESEX CENTRE, ONT. -- The Middlesex-London Health Unit is issuing orders that will make masks mandatory in higher risk businesses and on public transit as of July 20.

The high-risk businesses include those that require prolonged, close contact like hair and nail salons, and other personal service settings where workers are less than two metres from a customer for more than 15 minutes.

Speaking in a virtual press conference on Thursday afternoon, Medical Officer of Health Dr. Chris Mackie said our community is still vulnerable to outbreaks in those settings.

That’s where he believes masks can make a difference if worn by both staff and customers.

“The evidence in my opinion is really around preventing major outbreaks that would bring us back to the second wave and that’s what we’re doing here with this order.”

He pointed to an outbreak at a Kingston, Ont. nail salon that sparked 30 cases of COVID-19 among both staff and customers, as an example.

The risks are very similar with transit, he says, especially as the number of users increases - so riders, but not drivers, will be required to wear masks.

The order will be issued on July 6 and take effect on July 20 to allow businesses time to prepare.. It does not apply to children under the age of 12.

Acting MayorJesse Helmer responded to the decision saying, “I think this order sends a very clear message to folks, especially in those higher risk environments, that we have to do everything we can to protect each other.”

As far as enforcement, Mackie said education will be the focus, though fines of up to $5,000 for customers and $25,000 for businesses are possible under the Section 22 Class Order.

An escalation of the order is possible in future as conditions change.

The health unit stopped short of making them mandatory in all public spaces, but that remains a “strong recommendation,” Mackie says.

Several Ontario municipalities, like Toronto, have made masks mandatory in all enclosed public spaces, including on public transit, in stores and at malls.

Cases remain very low in region

The MLHU reported just one new COVID-19 case on Thursday, bringing the total in the region to 627, and in the city to 583.

The single case comes after no new cases were reported in the region on Wednesday, and a single case was reported on Tuesday.

The total number of recoveries stands 508. There have been no deaths in the region since June 12 – with that number holding at 57.

The new case is not associated with any seniors’ facilities, including the single ongoing outbreak in the region at Westmount Gardens long-term care home.

No new confirmed cases have been reported in nearby counties. Here’s how the latest numbers stand there:

  • Elgin and Oxford counties – 83 cases, 77 recovered, four deaths (two active cases as of Thursday)
  • Huron and Perth counties – 57 cases, 52 recovered, five deaths (no active cases as of Thursday)
  • Sarnia-Lambton – 285 cases, 257 recovered, 25 deaths (three active cases, one active outbreak as of Wednesday)
  • Grey and Bruce counties – 112 cases, 99 recovered, five referred, no deaths (eight active cases as of Wednesday)

Across Ontario, there were fewer than 200 new cases for a third day in a row.