The Region of Niagara has extended its mandatory mask bylaw until April 1, 2021.
The extension, approved on Sept. 17 by a 25 to 5 vote, is unchanged other than the expiration date. Businesses may simply leave the signage already in place and continue with the current rules and guidelines, said the region in a news release.
Niagara-on-the-Lake Regional Coun. Gary Zalepa and Lord Mayor Betty Disero both voted in favour of the extension.
Zalepa, who voted against the bylaw originally, said he thinks it's important that it continues.
“I think it makes perfect sense to continue. It seems to be an effective way to raise awareness for people to keep your distance and keep safe, so I think that's important,” he said in an interview Monday.
He said he never disagreed with wearing a mask, but that he “had a problem with politicians making a decision to put a mask into play, when the public health officer at the time wasn't suggesting to do so.”
“I've always agreed with the fact that physical distancing, washing your hands, and if you can't physically distance you wear a mask,” Zalepa said.
“I'm not against keeping people safe, that's for sure. I agree with wearing a mask, it was just that the 'mandatory' is a bit deceiving, because there's really no mandatory in any of it. It's hard to enforce, as we all know. It's just a matter of trying to do what's best for everybody and we're hoping that by having a mask by law, it kind of raises awareness that, hey, this is important.”
The Lake Report asked Zalepa his thoughts about anti-mask groups and if there is a concern about the spread of misinformation regarding masks.
“I guess there's a group for everybody,” he said.
“I just think that when you if you're going to take a position either way, on a subject matter, whatever that subject is, I would hope you do your homework and feel comfortable about your position.”
As a municipal politician, he said he thinks it's important to reply on the expertise of staff members.
“When those experts are telling you something, whether it's in a question about a sewage treatment plant, or whether it's a question about a public health item, I think you have to really rely on the staff,” he said.
He was also asked at what point the mask debate is no longer a matter of opinion and when politicians need to speak out against misinformation.
He said if people with uninformed opinions were influencing policy, that's when politicians would need to speak up.
He said he'd hope at that point, “our leadership is pretty capable of distilling the facts, taking the advice of the professional staff, and making sure they're not influenced by the false information that's out there,” he said.
“I think that unfortunately, social media, the role of social media has is newer in our history. I think we're still figuring out how to deal with that.”
Meanwhile, COVID cases continue to climb across the country, with 478 new cases confirmed in Ontario on Tuesday, according to the province's COVID-19 statistics page.
This week Niagara Region's total number of cases reached 1,003. There have been 43 cases in NOTL but there is only one active case now.
The Canada-U.S. border closure has been extended until Oct. 21. The decision was agreed upon by both national governments. Essential travel and the flow of goods will continue as before, but recreational travel remains forbidden.