ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — Newfoundland and Labrador's top doctor says she issued a mandatory mask-wearing order during the summer so people get used to wearing them in time for a possible second wave of COVID-19 in the fall.
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said Tuesday that despite only two active cases of COVID-19 in the province, she expects people to be interacting more often when schools resume in September, putting them at greater risk of infection.
"This will give people time to get used to wearing them and hopefully will reduce the spread ... so that we don't get a second wave," Fitzgerald told reporters. "That's what we want, ultimately."
"We've found from a lot of our measures that the earlier that we have them in place, the more likely they are to be of benefit."
On Monday, Fitzgerald ordered that beginning next week, mask-wearing will be mandatory in all indoor public places across the province. She said people can be fined for violating the mask order but the emphasis will be on educating people rather than strict enforcement.
Children under the age of five and people with certain physical and mental health conditions can be exempt from wearing a mask, though the province is not asking people to disclose medical conditions in public.
Fitzgerald said she is hopeful people understand the purpose of the mask order and comply with it.
"We have seen wonderful compliance and understanding of why the rules are in place up to this place and I don't think masks will be any different," she said. "I have great confidence in the people of Newfoundland and Labrador."
Fitzgerald is also relaxing rules for indoor gatherings.
Starting next week, up to 100 people can gather indoors during organized events as long as the venue is at 50 per cent capacity.
The rule applies to events hosted by recognized businesses or to organized gatherings such as religious services, weddings and funerals.
Organizers will be required to keep a record of attendees for 14 days to facilitate contact tracing if necessary.
Personal gatherings will still be limited to 50 people because Fitzgerald said it is more difficult to enforce crowd limits and keep track of attendees at a private party.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 18, 2020.
The Canadian Press