TORONTO -- Toronto city council approved a bylaw Tuesday that makes face coverings mandatory in indoor public spaces.

Toronto’s top public health official earlier recommended that city council approve a new bylaw that will make it mandatory for residents to wear masks in all “indoor public spaces.”

Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa made the announcement during a news conference at city hall on Tuesday morning, noting that in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19 the city needs “as many people as possible wearing cloth masks or face coverings.”

The bylaw will take effect July 7.

It will remain in effect until the first city council meeting of the fall, which is currently scheduled for Sept. 30-Oct.1.

Children under the age of two will be exempt, as will anyone with a medical condition that prevents them from wearing a mask.

“Since the beginning of this pandemic I have asked you to take care of each other. Today I am making this recommendation and asking for you to do this once again,” de Villa said in making the announcement. “Our experience has been that Torontonians are interested in protecting our city and protecting their families, their neighbours, their friends and we see this as the next logical step.”

The mayors and chairs of the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area municipalities wrote an open letter on Monday asking the province to issue a blanket order making masks mandatory in large municipalities but Health Minister Christine Elliott refused to do so, citing the fact that local officials already have the authority to implement the policy under the Health Protection and Promotion Act.

In her report considered by city council on Tuesday, de Villa said that requiring masks in indoor settings is “essential” to preventing the spread of COVID-19 but she cited studies suggesting that compliance will need to be as high as 80 per cent in order for it to work.

She said that COVID-19 “is unlike any infectious disease we have faced in our lifetime” and while the science on masks is incomplete there is now a “growing body of evidence” that shows they can help prevent the spread of the virus, especially as more parts of the economy reopen.

“The reality is that while our COVID-19 case numbers have decreased, this does not mean that there is no risk of contracting the virus on our in city. The reality is that the virus continues to circulate and that we still need to be careful,” she said.

Minimal enforcement

de Villa said that the bylaw is intended to apply to all “enclosed spaces” that the public has regular access to, such as grocery stores and other shops.

She said that it will not apply to workplaces that are not publicly accessible, nor would it apply to child-care centres.

Speaking with reporters, Mayor John Tory said that the idea is to place “a lot of the responsibility” on businesses by mandating that they have a policy requiring the wearing of face masks on their premises.

He said that could mean that the “no shirts, no shoes, no business” policy invoked by some business could soon be expanded to include masks as well.

“There won’t really be aggressive enforcement. To be candid about it we don’t really have the resources to go around and look at every store and look at every person that is in one of those places,” he said. “We are going to rely on people by and large to get educated and to do the right thing.”

Similar bylaw proposed for Peel Region

Premier Doug Ford has previously said that while he strongly recommends that people wear face masks when in enclosed public spaces, it will be up to individual municipalities to mandate their use.

Several have already done that, including Guelph, Wellington County and Dufferin County.

Others, meanwhile, have announced an intention to pass similar bylaws.

Less than 15 minutes after de Villa’s announcement on Tuesday, the mayors of Brampton, Mississauga and Caledon held their own news conference to announce their support for a similar bylaw making masks mandatory in indoor public spaces in their communities.

The bylaw could be in effect in Brampton as early as July 7 pending council approval. Mississauga’s next city council meeting is July 8, so the earliest the bylaw could take effect in that city would be July 9.

“I encourage and compliment the regions that are doing it but Toronto and Peel are different than Kenora and Rainy River,” Ford said during his daily briefing at Queen’s Park on Tuesday afternoon. “It is apples and oranges. So each public health area will have the authority. They can either do it through section 22 of the health act or they can do it with a bylaw and they can go to council. I think it is good. I encourage them to do that.”

Businesses won’t be required to provide masks

While a number of businesses have taken to providing customers with masks, there is nothing in any of the bylaws requiring them to do so.

At a press conference earlier on Tuesday, Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie said that the bylaw being proposed in her community will place “no onus on businesses to provide their customers with a mask” but will give them “the right to refuse service customers to without one. Period. Full stop.”

She said that while masks “by themselves are not the answer,” they are “a big part of the equation” when it comes to stopping the spread of the virus.

“It is our hope that people will do the right thing for their families, their friends and their neighbours,” she said. “Wear a mask so you don’t spread the virus unknowingly to others, wear a mask to protect someone who may have a child undergoing cancer treatment, wear a mask because you support local businesses and want them to stay open and wear a mask to allow more businesses to reopen.”

A number of transit agencies across the GTA, including the TTC, have previously announced policies that will make masks mandatory as of July 2.

Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti has also called on York Region Council to mandate the wearing of masks in indoor settings with the motion expected to be debated on July 9.

"We are contemplating these steps because it is necessary to take these steps. Listen, the last thing any of us want to do is to put more restrictions on public activity but this still is a very serious public health issue,” Scarpitti told CP24 on Tuesday. “Just look what is happening south of the border.”