Sarnia’s mayor frustrated by public health stance on face masks

Troy Shantz

After trying twice to make face mask use mandatory, Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley is laying blame for political inaction at the feet of Lambton Public Health and its medical officer of health, Dr. Sudit Ranade.

“It was the medical officer of health in London, Ottawa, Toronto and Windsor that worked with the leadership of those communities to bring (a bylaw) forward and to have it passed,” Bradley said.

“I’m following the actions of about 80%of the medical officers of health of Ontario, who are way ahead of us on this.”

On July 8, Bradley asked Lambton County to make face masks mandatory in indoor spaces when physical distancing isn’t possible. County councillors said “no” in a 13-4 vote, opting instead to “support and encourage” mask use to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

Bradley then sought a special meeting of Sarnia council to pass a similar bylaw on July 22. Just two other members of the nine-member council were supportive of the idea.

Lambton Public Health has the authority under provincial legislation to itself require residents to wear face masks in public settings.

But just prior to the county vote, it released a three-page technical brief that concluded with the “clinical decision” of Dr. Ranade not to use the provincial act to make masks mandatory.

While mask wearing is beneficial, the brief states, requiring them legally is offset by Lambton’s low population density, the burden it places on marginalized individuals, the loss of personal autonomy, and the difficulty of enforcement.

Dr. Ranade reiterated his position at a news conference on Wednesday, noting it’s consistent with that of Canadian health officials and the World Health Organization.

People should wear face coverings in settings where physical distancing isn’t possible, he said.

“I’m very happy to encourage and support the use of masks in those settings,” he said.

But he isn’t convinced mandating their use would actually change people’s behaviour, he added.

Mayor Bradley said “encouraging” masks doesn’t go far enough.

“The evidence is everywhere that masking makes a difference. You can argue the numbers, but even if it’s 20% or 30% it’s keeping cases back and that’s a good thing,” he said.

“It’s been overwhelming the number of emails and calls from the public wanting mandatory masking. These are nurses, these are dentists… all just saying they want this.”

Bradley acknowledged the local infection rate is currently low, but that could change now that Sarnia-Lambton has entered Stage 3 of Ontario’s reopening plan.

“It’s not about today, “he said. “It’s about what’s ahead of us.”