Middlesex-London Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Chris Mackie, issued instructions on Friday to all local businesses and organizations to ensure masks are worn in enclosed public spaces at all times while on their premises.

The mandatory wearing of face coverings takes effect at 12:01 a.m. Saturday.

It comes as the City of London plans to introduce a bylaw on Monday that would require masks in all indoor publicly-accessible spaces. Mackie is recommending London and all municipal councils in Middlesex issue a bylaw.

Mackie's instruction will be enforceable by public health staff, municipal by-law officers and law enforcement officials.

The instruction comes under Ontario’s Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act.

“We know that physical distancing is very effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19, but as the pandemic has evolved, new evidence supporting the use of face coverings in enclosed public spaces has continued to emerge,” says Mackie.

“Our community has done an amazing job to slow the pandemic to a crawl. We need to do all we can to prevent a spike in cases that could occur as most of our businesses and establishments move to Stage 3 of reopening.”

While the instruction applies to most people, the following individuals are exempt from having to wear face coverings:

• Children under the age of 12;

• People who have a medical condition or disability which inhibits their ability to wear a face covering;

• Those unable to apply or remove a face covering without help;

• People with accommodations under the Ontario Human Rights Code or the Accessibility for Ontarians with a Disabilities Act;

• Staff or agents of an enclosed public space who are in an area of the premises that is designated for them and not accessible to the public, or in an area separated by a physical barrier, such as plexiglass.

Face coverings are defined as a mask or other barrier, including a bandana or scarf, made of cloth, linen or other similar fabric that fits securely to the head and is large enough to completely and comfortably cover the mouth, nose and chin without gapping.

Face coverings may also include medical masks such as surgical masks, as well as N95 or other similar masks worn by healthcare workers.

Mackie says if a customer isn't wearing a mask the business can ask the person to wear a mask, but not to create conflict.

"The primary enforcement mechanism will be education here for this instruction. Education is the most important part. If businesses make a reasonable attempt to ask a customer to wear a mask they will not be charged."

Meanwhile, there are no details on when the city's temporary bylaw would take effect, or how long it would apply.

It would also require all businesses to post signage about mandatory masks.

According to city officials, the bylaw has been developed on the recommendation of Mackie.

The primacy goal is "to reduce the risk of further COVID-19 infections within the City of London."

The proposed minimum fine for failing to wear a mask is $500.

Council will discuss the bylaw at a special Strategic Priorities and Planning Committee meeting on Monday afternoon, with the bylaw expected to be introduced on Tuesday.

Public comments can be sent by email at sppc@london.ca.