On Thursday, September 17, Regional Council voted to extend Niagara’s temporary face-covering bylaw to April 1, 2021. The bylaw requires masks in all enclosed public places in Niagara, and was set to expire on October 1.

In a statement, the Region asserted that council’s decision to extend the bylaw “recognizes the long-term nature of the pandemic, and the continued importance of following public health measures,” such as physical distancing, proper hand hygiene, and wearing a mask in public.

Since the bylaw came into effect on July 31, the Region’s approach has been to educate the public and “gain voluntary compliance,” said the statement.

A flash Voice online opinion poll conducted on Thursday found overwhelming support for the bylaw extension, with 188 respondents saying that face masks should continue to be required, and 17 respondents saying that they should not.

Voice online opinion poll results, Thursday, Sept. 17, showing overwhelming support for extension of the Region of Niagara’s face covering bylaw. VOICE

The bylaw applies only to enclosed public places. It does not apply to outdoor locations or to indoor locations accessible only to staff.

While the bylaw sets minimum requirements for face-coverings, individual businesses may implement their own policies that exceed the requirements of the bylaw.

The bylaw includes a number of exemptions. Not everyone can wear a mask and many disabilities are invisible. There’s no requirement for people to prove they are exempt.

“As a council we can rescind this bylaw at any time, should the Regional Health Unit deem it unnecessary,” Pelham Mayor Marvin Junkin told the Voice. “Myself, along with several other councillors, would have liked to have seen it only extended until February or March, but the vote was called before an amendment could be put on the floor. With the beginning of both school and flu season, everyone was reluctant to let it run out October 1.”

Pelham Fire Department Chief and Emergency Operations Centre lead Bob Lymburner supported the extension.

“The numbers continue to increase and our younger demographics are the problem,” Lymburner told the Voice. “Wearing a face covering will reduce the risk of infection.”

Council Chair Jim Bradley said that it was clear the COVID-19 pandemic wasn’t over.

“Regional Council’s decision to extend the face-covering bylaw reflects Niagara’s united commitment to safeguarding the health of our communities by following established public health advice,” said Bradley.