SUDBURY -- The Porcupine Health Unit is mandating people wear masks or face coverings when they are indoors in public places. The measure comes into effect July 23.

In a news release Wednesday, Medical Officer of Health Dr. Lianne Catton said the reopening is a good thing, but caution is still needed to control the spread of COVID-19.

"We are able to move forward due to the commitment to the public health measures in place," Catton said. "This is not a green light, it’s amber — proceed with caution. That’s why today, I am announcing the additional requirement of mandatory masks or face coverings in enclosed public spaces."

As more businesses and public spaces reopen, the risk of rapid spread of the virus increases, she said.

“Ongoing dedication to the measures that have enabled us to open is critical to ensuring we stay open," Catton said. "There is increasing evidence supporting the use of masks in enclosed spaces as an important added measure to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission.”

As of July 23, businesses in the Porcupine Health Unit area will require all members of the public and employees who enter or remain in an enclosed public space of the business or organization to wear a mask or face covering that covers their mouth, nose and chin without gaping.

And enclosed public space refers to indoor spaces of businesses and organizations that are accessed by the public.

There will be some exemptions to the policy, including children under two years, people with medical conditions such as difficulty breathing, or those who cannot remove their masks without assistance.

"People will not be expected to provide their reason nor any proof of exemptions," the release said.

No need to wait

While not coming into effect until next week, to give businesses time to prepare, the health unit urges the public to start wearing masks now.

"Get a mask, make a mask, use a scarf from your closet, and learn how to safely wear and remove them," the release said. "There are instructional posters and videos available in French and English on the porcupine health unit website."

Catton urged all members of the public to be patient and understanding through the transition.

“The Porcupine Health Unit is committed to helping local businesses reopen and remain open safely," she said. "We will be working with all members of the business community throughout the area to support them and provide guidance during this period.”

The new face covering requirement adds to existing advice on preventing the spread of COVID, including washing your hands frequently and well; covering your coughs and sneezes; keeping physical distance between yourself and others outside and wearing a non-medical mask or face covering when that isn’t possible; not touching your face; keeping commonly touched surfaces clean; and staying home when you’re not well.

“I know many people feel their lives have been put on hold for too long,” Catton said. “If we proceed with caution and care into Stage 3, we can reduce the future impact of COVID-19 in all our communities.”

The Porcupine Health Unit serves the entire Cochrane District and Hornepayne, in Algoma District. The main office is located in Timmins, Ontario, with branch offices in Cochrane, Hearst, Hornepayne, Iroquois Falls, Kapuskasing, Matheson, Moosonee and Smooth Rock Falls.