FAQ – General Public

Last reviewed/updated: 4:06 p.m., August 3, 2021

These Frequency Asked Question do not constitute legal advice.  To ensure legal compliance with all applicable provincial regulations, individuals and businesses should consult the Orders currently in force under the Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Response to COVID-19) Act and/or obtain legal advice.

  1. How does a face covering work?
  2. Why do I still need to wear a mask if I am fully vaccinated?
  3. What is the science/proof that mandatory face coverings work?
  4. Why should I bother wearing a face covering if it doesn’t protect me?
  5. Where do we need to wear a face covering?
  6. Should members of the general public wear face coverings outside?
  7. Why are face coverings required in transit vehicles (private or public)?
  8. Will patrons be expected to wear a face covering at a restaurant?
  9. Are face coverings required in places of worship?
  10. Are face coverings required in gyms or other fitness establishments?
  11. Are face coverings mandatory in common areas of condominiums or apartment buildings?
  12. Who is required to wear a face covering at school?
  13. What happens if a member of the general public does not wear a face covering in the indoor area of a business or organization?
  14. Are members of the general public exempt from wearing a face covering?
  15. Do members of the general public need to show proof of exemption at a business or organization?
  16. What do I do if I see someone without a face covering in a business or organization?
  17. How is this being enforced?
  18. When is it ok for a member of the general public to remove their face covering in a business or organization?
  19. Do I still need to stay 2 metres away from others if I am wearing a face covering?
  20. How do I use a face covering properly?
  21. What type of face covering should I wear? I’ve heard of masks and face coverings, what’s the difference?
  22. I am wearing a plastic face shield to go shopping, is this okay?
  23. Is a face shield a good alternative for someone who can’t wear a face covering?
  24. Are clear plastic mouth shields a safe face covering?
  25. Are neck gaiters or buffs a safe face covering?
  26. Can I use a winter scarf as a face covering?
  27. How do I get my child to wear a face covering?
  28. I would like to make my own face covering. How do I do this?
  29. What should I consider when selecting a face covering?
  30. How do I wear a face covering in hot weather?
  31. How is the mandatory face covering Regulations enforced in local businesses and organizations?
  32. A 3-layer face covering is recommended by the Public Health Agency of Canada, does this mean 2-layer face coverings cannot be used?

1. How does a face covering work?

Face coverings, otherwise known as non-medical masks, are not certified by Health Canada as medical grade.  This means these masks are worn for the purpose of source control intended to trap respiratory droplets that are released when the wearer talks, coughs or sneezes. Asking everyone to wear cloth masks can help reduce the spread of the virus by people who have COVID-19 but don’t realize it.

2. Why do I still need to wear a mask if I am fully vaccinated?

According to research recently released, data show that individuals fully vaccinated for SARS-CoV-2 who become infected—known as breakthrough cases—carry viral loads similar to those found in infected unvaccinated individuals, suggesting that vaccinated people can transmit the Delta variant of concern just as easily as those who are unvaccinated.

The data are based on a COVID-19 outbreak that began in Provincetown, MA (US) in early July following multiple summer events and large public gatherings. Of the 496 cases reported in the outbreak at the time of data analysis, 346 (74%) cases were among fully vaccinated people and 90% of 133 cases sequenced were caused by the Delta variant. Almost 80% of the breakthrough cases were symptomatic, with common symptoms including cough, headache, sore throat, myalgia, and fever. Among 5 patients who were hospitalized, 3 had underlying medical conditions and 4 were vaccinated. No deaths were reported. The report, published as an early release in the CDC’s MMWR, said even jurisdictions without high or substantial transmission should consider expanding prevention measures, including masking for all individuals in indoor public spaces.

3. What is the science/proof that mandatory face coverings work?

COVID-19 is a new virus and we are continuing to learn more about the virus, how it affects people and how it is spread. Evidence is showing that wearing a face covering, together with staying home when sick, physical distancing, washing hands thoroughly and frequently, and covering coughs and sneezes is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of the virus. Public Health Ontario has compiled a summary of evidence available on masks: COVID-19 – What we know so far about… wearing masks in public.

4. Why should I bother wearing a face covering if it doesn’t protect me?

No matter how many COVID-19 cases diagnosed across the Peterborough region we need to be constantly vigilant and use all possible public health measures to protect ourselves, our family, and our communities. Click here to watch a short video with more information.

5. Where do we need to wear a face covering?

A face covering must be worn by members of the public and employees in any indoor area of a business or organization (including transit and commercial vehicles) that are accessible to members of the public. Face coverings are also recommended outdoors, any time physical distancing of 2 metres will be a challenge.

6. Should members of the general public wear face coverings outside?

Maybe. Anytime you are in an outdoor setting where physical distancing of 2 metres from another person may be a challenge or unpredictable (walking on a busy sidewalk, parking lot, or using a public trail), a face covering is recommended, if you are in a line up outside of a business or organization, you must wear a face covering while in the line.

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7. Why are face coverings required in transit vehicles (private or public)?

Private and public transit services are settings that may not always allow for physical distancing of 2 metres. Requiring a face covering in these settings gives an added public health measure that should be applied with physical distancing, washing hands thoroughly and frequently, covering coughs and sneezes, and staying home when you are ill.

8. Will patrons be expected to wear a face covering at a restaurant?

Yes. Members of the public must wear a face covering at a restaurant and are permitted to temporarily remove their face covering when eating or drinking. Patrons should keep their face coverings on until they are seated at a table, and wear face coverings any time they are moving through a shared space (to/from table, restroom, etc.).

9. Are face coverings required in places of worship?

Yes. Everyone attending a place of worship, must wear a face covering the entire time that they are indoors – this includes the people leading the service, ceremony or rite.

The person leading the service, ceremony or rite may remove their face covering if:

  1. They are in an area not accessible by the public (delineated and/or posted as such), AND
  2. They are physically distanced by at least 2m from everyone else, AND
  3. A face covering is put back on if they cannot maintain #1 or #2

Face coverings must be worn by people participating in ceremonies, rites, and services (i.e. bride and groom, bridal party, God parents, etc.).

10. Are face coverings required in gyms or other fitness establishments?

Yes. Members of the general public are required to wear a face covering in the indoor portions of gyms and fitness establishments. If an activity or exertion level makes wearing a face covering intolerable, members of the public are permitted to remove their face covering temporarily, but should put it on again when the strenuous activity is complete (for example: when stretching, travelling through shared space). Physical distancing must continue to take place in shared indoor spaces such as gyms, and frequent hand washing should be encouraged.

11. Are face coverings mandatory in common areas of condominiums or apartment buildings?

Yes. Anyone in the common area of a multi-unit dwelling (condominiums and/or apartment buildings) must wear a face covering. This includes: laundry room, mail room, parking garages, stairwells, hallways, elevators, and other similar spaces. Face coverings in these spaces are required by tenants, staff, custodians, contractors, and caretakers.

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12. Who is required to wear a face covering at school?

Click here to learn more.

13. What happens if a member of the general public does not wear a face covering in the indoor area of a business or organization?

Business and organizations are required to ask all people entering the establishment to put on a face covering.  If you have an exemption (as listed in the provincial regulations), you must indicate the reasons why you are exempt, but do not have to show proof.  If you qualify for an exemption and are not able to wear a face covering, you are encouraged to use online ordering and delivery services.  A list of establishments offering these services can be found here.  Following these public health measures is the safest approach, especially to prevent the spread of any COVID-19 variants of concern. NOTE:  Some businesses may have stronger requirements than the provincial regulations.

Businesses who fail to implement face covering requirements as required by provincial legislation can be charged under the Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Responsible to COVID-19 Act.  Individuals who fail to comply with the face covering requirements can also be charged under the same Act.

14. Are members of the general public exempt from wearing a face covering?

A person will be exempt from wearing a face covering if they:

  • are a child who is younger than two years of age;
  • are attending a school or private school within the meaning of the Education Act that is operated in accordance with a return to school direction issued by the Ministry of Education and approved by the Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health;
  • are attending a child care program at a place that is in compliance with the child care re-opening guidance issued by the Ministry of Education;
  • are receiving residential services and supports in a residence listed in the definition of “residential services and supports” in subsection 4 (2) of the Services and Supports to Promote the Social Inclusion of Persons with Developmental Disabilities Act, 2008;
  • are in a correctional institution or in a custody and detention program for young persons in conflict with the law;
  • are performing or rehearsing in a film or television production or in a concert, artistic event, theatrical performance or other performance;
  • have a medical condition that inhibits their ability to wear a mask or face covering;
  • are unable to put on or remove their mask or face covering without the assistance of another person;
  • need to temporarily remove their mask or face covering while in the indoor area,
    • to receive services that require the removal of their mask or face covering,
    • to engage in an athletic or fitness activity,
    • to consume food or drink, or
    • as may be necessary for the purposes of health and safety;
  • being accommodated in accordance with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005;
  • being reasonably accommodated in accordance with the Human Rights Code; or
  • perform work for the business or organization, is in an area that is not accessible to members of the public and is able to maintain a physical distance of at least two metres from every other person while in the indoor area.

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15. Do members of the general public need to show proof of exemption at a business or organization?

No. For members of the general public who have an exemption that fits with the eligible exemptions listed in the Regulations, you are not required to provide proof. However, some businesses and organizations may have stronger policies in place than what is required by provincial Regulations, which may not permit entry for those who are not wearing a face covering, even if exempt.

16. What do I do if I see someone without a face covering in a business or organization?

From time to time, you may see members of the general public in a business or organization without a face covering. For many reasons, a person may be exempt from wearing a face covering. We need to be kind to ourselves and to others during this pandemic. Do not judge if you see another person without a face covering. If you are concerned, we would encourage you to bring your issues forward to the manager or person responsible for the business or organization.

17. How is this being enforced?

The person responsible for the business/establishment will ensure that all individuals in the indoor premises of the businesses/establishment are wearing a face covering.

Public Health Inspectors from Peterborough Public Health, as well as municipal by-law officers, local police officers, and the Ministry of Labour will respond to complaints about non-compliance with these requirements and take enforcement action where indicated.

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18. When is it ok for a member of the general public to remove their face covering in a business or organization?

Individuals are permitted the temporary removal of a face covering:

  • when necessary to receive services offered by the establishment/organization (including eating or drinking where dine-in services are allowed)
  • while actively engaging in an athletic or fitness activity including water-based activities
  • as is necessary for the purpose of health and safety

Please ensure you wash your hands using soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer before and after removing your face covering.

19. Do I still need to stay 2 metres away from others if I am wearing a face covering?

Yes. Wearing a face covering is an addition, not an alternative to all the public health measures that are currently in place. To stay safe, you should always:

  • wear a face covering,
  • keep 2 metres from anyone not from the same household,
  • stay home if sick,
  • wash your hands frequently,
  • practice good cough and sneeze etiquette,
  • do not touch your face, eyes, mouth, and clean commonly touched surfaces.

20. How do I use a face covering properly?

Here is a compilation of resources to learn about wearing a face covering properly:

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21. What type of face covering should I wear? I’ve heard of masks and face coverings, what’s the difference?

A face covering, otherwise known as a mask, is a commonly used term for non-medical mask and is a way to cover your mouth, nose and chin to prevent droplets (from breathing, talking, coughing or sneezing) from contaminating others or landing on surfaces. The face covering should have a snug fit around the mouth, nose, and chin for the best protection.

A face covering can be made from cloth or can be disposable. The Public Health Agency of Canada recommends that face coverings are 3-layers with one layer a filter to add extra protection. To learn about how to make a 3-layer face covering .

A medical mask includes surgical, medical procedure face masks and respirators (like N95 masks). These masks must be kept for workers and others providing direct care to COVID-19 patients. Do not use plastic or other non-breathable materials to create a face covering.

22. I am wearing a plastic face shield to go shopping, is this okay?

When you wear a plastic face shield, you do not have a snug fit around your nose, chin, and mouth which means that respiratory droplets from others can still be inhaled around the shield. Additionally, respiratory droplets from the wearer can escape around the sides of the face shield, which provides less protection to others. In fact, a face shield serves as a form of eye protection, rather than a face covering. If you choose to wear a face shield, you should do it in combination with a face covering. (Think about it like a car that has seatbelts AND airbags – both work together to protect the occupants of the car.)

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23. Is a face shield a good alternative for someone who can’t wear a face covering?

Evidence shows that plastic face shields alone are NOT equivalent to wearing a face covering. It does not filter respiratory droplets and does not have a snug fit around the nose, mouth and chin. However, the Centre for Disease Control does support the use of face shields as a “better than nothing” solution to face coverings. At a minimum, the face shield should cover the sides of the face and extend below the chin.

24. Are clear plastic mouth shields a safe face covering?

No. Clear plastic mouth shields that rest on the chin and wrap around the sides of the face are NOT equivalent to wearing a face covering.  Mouth shields have significant gaps, particularly around the nose and at the top of the shield. They do not fit closely to the face which means that respiratory droplets can escape. Additionally, these shields cannot be cleaned and disinfected properly between uses.

25. Are neck gaiters or buffs a safe face covering?

No. Neck gaiters or buffs are not a safe type of face covering due to the limited evidence regarding their effectiveness. Additionally, the type of fabric/material used to produce the neck gaiter may render it to be ineffective. A proper face covering should have 3 or more layers of breathable fabric (one layer should be a filter layer) and have a snug fit around your mouth, nose, and chin with no gaps.

26. Can I use a winter scarf as a face covering?

No. A winter scarf does not provide a 3-layer tight fit around your mouth, nose, and chin that would prevent any droplets from escaping. If you are wearing a winter scarf you must also wear a proper face covering.

27. How do I get my child to wear a face covering?

Children can be symptomatic (showing symptoms) or asymptomatic (without symptoms) carriers of COVID-19. Children over the age of 2 should wear a face covering to protect those around them if it is difficult to maintain a distance of 2 metres.

Face coverings are not recommended for children under 2 years of age or wherever one cannot be worn safely. Once a face covering is in place, children should not touch the face covering, as doing so will increase their risk of contamination. If you believe your child can understand and follow the proper etiquette for wearing a face covering, encourage your child to wear one.

You can encourage your child by:

  • Talking with your child
    • Explain why they need to wear a face covering
    • Listen to their feelings and concerns
  • Choose a face covering with your child
    • If you are able to, include your child in selecting it
  • Include in play
    • Have a face covering available in their home environment so they can explore and play with them
  • Remember – You are the role model, so wear your face covering too.

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28. I would like to make my own face covering. How do I do this?

Click here to learn more.

29. What should I consider when selecting a face covering?

Cloth face coverings should not:

  • Contain plastic, paper tissues or other non-breathable materials
  • Be shared with others, including those in your household
  • Impair vision or interfere with tasks

Things to consider when choosing to wear a cloth face covering:

  • They may not block all the virus droplets that are spread through coughing or sneezing
  • They should fit snugly but comfortably over the nose and against the side of your face, be secured with ties or ear loops and allow for easy breathing
  • They should be made of cloth that tolerates frequent washing and drying. Cloth face coverings should be discarded if the material is frayed or has holes

30. How do I wear a face covering in hot weather?

When a 2-metre distance cannot be maintained, wearing a face covering will help reduce the spread of COVID-19. In extreme heat wearing a face covering can be uncomfortable. In an outdoor setting, a face covering may not be necessary if you can keep 2 metres away from others.

Tips to beat the heat while wearing a face covering:

  • Plan your outing during the coolest time of the day.
  • Move to shade or a cooler environment to take breaks from the heat.
  • Take breaks.
  • Decrease intensity of the activity performed.
  • Keep a spare handy. You may need to change your face covering more frequently in hot, humid temperatures as it may become damp more quickly.

31. How is the mandatory face covering Regulations enforced in local businesses and organizations?

Provincial Regulations state that any person who enters a business or organization must wear a face covering.The Regulations also state that the owner or operator of a business or organization must ensure that all individuals in the indoor premise of a business/establishment wear a face covering. This means that individuals who do not wear a face covering can be charged, in addition to the business or organization where the infraction occurred.

Public Health Inspectors from Peterborough Public Health, as well as municipal by-law officers, local police officers, and the Ministry of Labour will respond to complaints about non-compliance with these requirements and take enforcement action where needed.

32. A 3-layer face covering is recommended by the Public Health Agency of Canada, does this mean 2-layer face coverings cannot be used?

You can continue to wear your well-fitting two-layer face covering made of tightly woven materials since they are effective at providing source control and work almost as well as three-layer face covering, especially to block your own respiratory droplets from others in the event you had COVID-19. However, as you replace or add to your face coverings, look for 3-layered options. In addition, many two-layer face coverings have the option to add a middle filtration layer.

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