Masks in Community Settings
Updated: January 18, 2022
- Why do masks continue to be an important layer of prevention against COVID-19?
- Where are masks required to be worn in Ontario?
- What are the mask requirements for workplaces in Ontario?
- What type of masks are required in a community setting?
- What is the best mask to wear to prevent transmission of variants of COVID-19, such as Omicron?
- Where to get more information about masks?
- How to submit a complaint about an establishment not following mandatory mask requirements?
The purpose of a mask is to act as a barrier. It reduces the chance of spreading respiratory droplets to others and prevents droplets from landing on surfaces. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, mask use has been researched. This research has consistently shown that a well-constructed, well-fitting mask, along with other public health measures, like physical distancing and staying home when ill, can reduce the transmission of COVID-19.
Masks use must also continue for fully vaccinated individuals and individuals who have received booster doses. We know that vaccines help to reduce severe illness and death, but vaccines are not 100% effective at preventing COVID-19 transmission. Also, protection from vaccines reduces over time, which means that wearing a mask coupled with other public health measures will give continued protection.
In Ontario, any person who enters an indoor area of a business or organization, or a vehicle operating as part of a business or organization, must wear a mask. This also includes common spaces of shared residences, such as laundry rooms, mail rooms, elevators, and lobbies. These requirements are dictated by the provincial Orders in force under the Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Response to COVID-19) Act. There are limited exemptions to the mandatory requirements to wear a mask in an indoor business, organization, and common space of a shared residence. For a complete list, click here.
Restaurants, gyms, meeting and event spaces, and sports facilities are also businesses that require masks to be worn. A person is exempt from wearing a mask when they are consuming food and drink or while engaging in physical activity. This means these establishments may have individuals who do not wear a mask for a short period of time, but their mask should be put back on immediately after the food, drink, or physical activity is finished.
Even if masks are not required in the setting you are in (example, social gathering at a residence on private property), wearing a mask is an added layer of protection. Whether you are vaccinated or not, you should consider wearing one in shared spaces with people from outside of your immediate household.
In Ontario, businesses and organizations must follow the requirements listed in the Orders in force under the Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Response to COVID-19) Act, as well as their requirements as employers under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA). Employers must take every reasonable precaution to protect the health and safety of their workers. This includes protecting workers from hazards posed by infectious diseases. This means that all workers must wear a mask in any area accessible by the public. Workers must also wear a mask in areas that are not accessible to the public if they cannot keep a 2 metre physical distance from other workers at all times. There may be instances where workers are required to wear personal protective equipment (PPE). This will depend on the risk assessment of the workplace, each task a worker will be required to do, and the other hierarchy of controls that are in place. For example, in the course of providing services, if a worker is required to come within two metres of another person who is not wearing a mask, then the worker must wear appropriate PPE including a medical grade mask and eye protection.
Use these resources to learn more about mask requirements for workplaces and how to keep workers safe.
- Using masks in the workplace – Government of Ontario
- Mask signages for businesses and organizations – Peterborough Public Health
- Personal Protective Equipment – Peterborough Public Health
- COVID-19 and the Occupational Health and Safety Act – Government of Ontario
- Occupational Health and Safety Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. O.1 – Government of Ontario
- PPE Guidance for health care workers – Government of Ontario
For most community settings in Ontario, a well-constructed, well-fitting 3-layer mask that covers the nose, mouth, and chin with no gaps should be worn and will provide a good level of protection. There are circumstanced when individuals may choose to wear a medical mask or respirator; particularly as new Variants of COVID-19 emerge that are more transmissible.
Use the resources below to learn how to select the right mask, how it should fit, and how it should be cared for:
- What type of mask to use? – Government of Canada
- What are the different mask options? – Government of Canada
- How should a mask fit? – Government of Canada
- How to use, care for and store a mask? – Government of Canada
- Mask considerations for special populations – Government of Canada
- COVID-19 mask use: How to choose, use and care for a mask (printable poster)
NOTE: Face shields, bandanas, neck gaiters, and plastic mouth guards are not a suitable form of mask.
All viruses change over time and can lead to variants. Variants are common with coronaviruses, and can become a variant of concern (VOC) when its changes have a clinical or public health significance that affects the spread and severity of the disease, effectiveness of the vaccine, and/or issues with diagnostic testing.
Omicron is a VOC that can spread much easier than the original strain of COVID-19. It is also linked to lowering the effectiveness of the vaccine, and under certain conditions has the potential to contribute to aerosol transmission. Because of this, Public Health Ontario has recommended that masks worn while Omicron is circulating should have enhanced fit and filtration, particularly in settings with the 3 C’s (closed spaces, crowded places, and close contact). This can be done by wearing a well-fitted medical mask or a non-fit tested respirator (N95s, KN95s). While these types of masks are preferable for these situations; a well-constructed, well-fitting 3-layer mask that completely covers the nose, mouth, AND chin is also acceptable.
Regardless of the type of mask chosen, you should always continue with other public health measures, such as physical distancing, staying home when ill, frequent hand washing, and reducing the number of close contacts.
For more information, visit:
- Optimizing the Use of Masks Against COVID-19 – Public Health Ontario
- Evidence Brief: SARS-CoV-2 Omicron Variant and Community Masking – Public Health Ontario
- Ontario Ministry of Health: Face coverings and face masks
- Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC): Mask use in community settings
- World Health Organization (WHO): When and how to use a mask
Complaints regarding individuals not wearing a mask in an indoor setting will be reviewed by Peterborough Public Health, and responded to based on frequency and severity. If you have complaints or concerns related to mask use, you are encouraged to first speak with the person responsible for the business or establishment, before submitting a complaint to public health. You may also review the options for reporting complaints and concerns relating to COVID-19 public health measures.
If you are a worker and are concerned about the mask policies and protocols are your workplace, click here to learn more about reporting your concerns to the Ministry of Labour Health and Safety Contact Centre