FAQs about face coverings

Is it mandatory for businesses to require their staff and customers to wear face coverings?

On July 30th, 2020 Southwestern Public Health issued a letter of instruction to businesses to implement mandatory face coverings (masks) in all enclosed public spaces in Oxford County, Elgin County and the City of St. Thomas. The letter of instruction comes into effect at 11:59 p.m. on July 30, 2020. Businesses have a one-week grace period if they need time to prepare and train staff. All policies are required to be in-place by 12:00 a.m. on August 6th, 2020. This letter of instruction regarding universal face covering mandate is to help contain the spread of COVID-19 in our communities.

You are required to wear a face covering at any business or organization that operates an enclosed public space. This includes wearing a face covering when you enter the establishment, and for the entire time you are there. You are not permitted to remove the face covering unless for temporary reasons – such as emergencies, or to eat or to drink. Your face covering must cover your mouth, nose and chin without gaping.

Please see our COVID-19 Mandatory Face Covering FAQ for more details.

Read the full Media Release: SWPH issues letter of instruction for face coverings.

Who should wear a face covering?

Face coverings (i.e. medical or non-medical masks, bandanas or scarfs covering the mouth and nose) are required in any business or organization that operates an enclosed public space (this includes commercial establishments, public transportation and commercial transportation such as limousines and ride shares). In addition, face coverings are strongly recommended when physical distancing is not possible. You never know when that will be. That’s why it is important to carry a non-medical mask with you at all times, including in the workplace and in any situation where you can’t maintain 6 feet of space between you and other people. Wearing a mask protects other people from your germs. Remember – my mask protects you, and your masks protects me.

In what situations may a face covering be exempt?

Certain individuals may be exempt based on medical conditions, age – developmentally or chronologically, or during specific activities that may inhibit a person’s ability to breathe. Refer to the full letter of instruction for exemption examples. Proof of exemption will not be required.

For more information view the Face Covering Exemptions Poster.

It is our hope that everyone takes responsibility to help contain COVID-19 and that no one makes a false exemption claim. Wearing a face covering is an incredibly caring act to protect other people from illness.

What is a face covering?

A face covering is a way to cover your mouth and nose to prevent droplets (from breathing, talking, coughing or sneezing) from contaminating others or landing on surfaces. There are many types of masks or face coverings available. There are cloth masks that can be washed and reused; face coverings such as a bandana, scarf, or cloth, which can also be washed and reused; disposable masks that can only be worn once, and medical masks. A medical mask includes surgical, medical procedure face masks and respirators (like N95 masks). These masks must be kept for healthcare workers and others providing direct care to COVID-19 patients.

According to Health Canada, face coverings should:

  • be made of at least two layers of tightly woven fabric (i.e. cotton or linen)
  • be large enough to completely and comfortably cover the nose, mouth and chin without gaping
  • fit snugly to the nose, mouth and chin and secured to the head with ties or ear loops
  • allow for easy breathing
  • maintain shape after washing and drying
  • be comfortable when worn so as not to require frequent adjusting
  • be changed as soon as possible if damp or dirty

How can I make my own face covering?

Follow these links for instructions on how to make a face covering. You will find instructions for both a simple sewing or “no sew” version:

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

Yes. Wearing a face covering is not an alternative to all the public health measures that are currently in place:

  • physical distancing,
  • staying home if sick,
  • washing your hands,
  • cough and sneeze etiquette,
  • not touching your face, and
  • cleaning commonly touched surfaces.

It remains important to follow the guides and signs in the store or building (like the arrows on the floor, the 2 metres stickers or lines on the floor) to maintain a 2-metre physical distance.

What about my child?

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 required for children under two years of age; or children under the age of five years either chronologically or developmentally who refuse to wear a face covering and cannot be persuaded to do so by their caregiver. Once a face covering is in place, children should not touch the face covering, as doing so will increase their risk of contamination.

You can encourage your child by:

  • Talking with your child
    • Explain the importance of wearing a face covering in simple terms to help them understand why its required.
    • Listen to their feelings and concerns and allow them to ask questions.
  • Choosing a face covering with your child
    • If you are able to, include your child in selecting the pattern and/or colour of their masks. Children like to feel independent and like they had a choice.
  • Including masks in play
    • Children have great imaginations – see what they come up with by having a cloth mask available at playtime so they can explore and play with it. This will let them become more comfortable to the look and feel of the mask.
  • Setting an example
    • Show your kids how you put on your mask and explain why you are wearing it (to protect those around you) to be a role model for your kids.

Does the Letter of Instruction mean that I have to wear a mask when in my apartment building or condominium?

Masks are required when you are in enclosed public spaces. This Letter of Instruction does not include residential buildings or condominiums as they are not considered public spaces accessed by the general public. Residential building owners or condo boards may choose to implement their own policies within their buildings. It is recommended to wear a face covering when physical distancing cannot be maintained.

Is a plastic face shield considered a face covering?

No. When you wear a plastic face shield, you do not have a snug fit around your nose, mouth and chin. A face shield may be used in combination with another form of protection (such as a non-medical mask, bandana, or other face covering, for example) to provide extra precaution for the wearer against droplets from another person.

Evidence shows that plastic face shields alone are NOT the equivalent to wearing a face covering. It does not filter respiratory droplets and does not provide a snug fit. However, the World Health Organization supports the use of face shields as a “better than nothing” approach. At a minimum, the face shield should cover the sides of the face and extend below the chin.

How do I safely wear a face covering?

Health Canada provides an excellent resource for how to put on a non-medical mask or face covering. Southwestern Public Health has additional resources, including this instructional video for putting on and removing a face covering.

Where can I get PPE (personal protective equipment) such as masks?

PPE is available at a variety of locations for personal use, including online and brick and mortar stores. For bulk purchases for workplaces or other businesses you can access PPE from the Ontario government Workplace PPE Supplier Directory or from local suppliers on the Alternative PPE Supplier List. Homemade masks are being sold by a variety of stores and individuals. You can also find Instructions for sew and non-sew methods to learn how to make your own homemade cloth face coverings.

Where can I donate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)?

There are a few local programs accepting PPE donations:


Face Covering Resources for Workplaces

A face covering toolkit, guidance and signage are available on our workplaces webpage.

Sourced from: https://swpublichealth.ca/facecoverings

Scroll to Top