Face Covering By-law

On Oct. 2, the Province of Ontario amended Ontario Regulation 364/20: Rules for Areas in Stage 3. This regulation contains new requirements on face coverings and other restrictions. See Ontario's latest updates to make sure you're in compliance.

Face Coverings are Required

Wear a face covering to help prevent the spread of COVID-19

How to wear a face covering

On Sept. 17, 2020, Niagara Regional Council extended the temporary face covering by-law (By-law 2020-46) to require residents to wear mandatory face coverings in enclosed public places, and on Regional and municipal transit during the COVID-19 pandemic to April 1, 2021.

This by-law is to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 in indoor public spaces as more businesses and services begin to reopen.


Not everyone can wear a mask and many disabilities are invisible. There's no requirement for people to prove their condition or disability.

Be kind and respectful to people who can't wear a mask. We're in this together and this is one more way we can help to protect each other.

The by-law provides exemptions for:

  • Children under the age of five
  • A person who is unable to wear a face covering as a result of a medical condition or a disability
  • A person who is unable to remove the face covering without help
  • A person who would have their breathing inhibited or restricted by wearing a face covering
  • A person while consuming food or drink provided by a business that is permitted to operate
  • A person receiving services involving the face
  • A person engaged in sport or other strenuous physical activity
  • A person while helping or accommodating another person with a hearing disability
  • Individuals working in an enclosed public space that isn't open for public access
  • Individuals working behind a physical barrier

Information for Residents and Businesses

Wearing a face covering isn't a replacement for other health measures. The most effective measures to protect yourself and those around you is to always be mindful of your health. If you get sick, stay home and get tested. Continue to maintain a two metre physical distance from others, wear a face covering if you cannot maintain a physical distance, and frequently clean or sanitize your hands.

  • Where a face covering is required

    Face coverings are required in:

    • Retail stores where goods and services are sold to customers
    • Businesses that primarily sell food, including restaurants, supermarkets, grocery stores, bakeries and convenience stores
    • Regional and municipal transit, transit shelters and platforms
    • Churches, mosques, temples, synagogues and all other places of worship, except during a religious rite or ceremony that's incompatible with the face being covered
    • Shopping malls or similar structures which contain multiple places or businesses
    • Lobby areas of commercial buildings
    • Common areas of hotels and motels and other short-term accommodations, such as lobbies, elevators, meeting rooms or other common use facilities, but doesn't include the common areas of residential apartment buildings or condominiums
    • Laundromats
    • Concert venues, theatres and cinemas
    • Fitness centres, gyms, and other recreational sport facilities and clubhouses
    • Arcades and other amusement facilities
    • Premises used as an open house, presentation centre, or other facility for real estate purposes
    • Museums, galleries, historic sites and similar attractions
    • Businesses providing personal care services
    • Banquet halls, convention centres, arenas, stadiums and other event spaces
    • Municipal buildings
  • Where a face covering is NOT required

    The by-law doesn't apply to:

    • Daycares, schools, post-secondary institutions and other facilities used for educational purposes
    • Hospitals, independent health facilities and offices of regulated health professionals
    • Buildings and services owned and operated by the Province of Ontario or the Federal Government of Canada
    • An indoor area of a building that's accessible only to employees
    • Portions of buildings that are being used for the purpose of providing day camps for children or for the training of amateur or professional athletes
  • How to wear a face covering

    To safely wear a face covering:

    • Clean your hands before putting it on and taking it off. Clean your hands with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer for at least 20 seconds.
    • Make sure it fits with no gaps between the face covering and your face. It should cover your mouth and nose from below the eyes to around the chin.
    • Secure it with ties or ear loops so that it's comfortable and doesn't hinder breathing and vision
    • Keep your hands away from your face while wearing a face covering. If you do touch your face, clean your hands immediately.
    • Don't share your mask with others
    • Wear it as long as it's comfortable, and remove it when it becomes soiled, damp, damaged or difficult to breathe through
    • Wash your cloth face covering in the laundry
    • Continue to stay two metres away from others
    • Clean surfaces that a dirty face covering touches

    To remove and care for a face covering:

    • Remove carefully by grasping the straps only and place directly in the laundry
    • If you have to use it again before washing, ensure that the front of the mask folds in on itself to avoid touching the front. Store it in its own bag or container. Discard the bag or clean and disinfect the container after use.
    • Immediately clean your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer
    • Machine wash with hot water and regular detergent

    The Public Health Agency of Canada provides guidance on how to make cloth face coverings. No specific design or material is known to be better than others. Make sure each cloth face covering is made of at least two layers and can be washed multiple times without losing the shape or deteriorating.

    To learn more about face coverings and how to properly wear, fit, remove and clean your non-medical face covering visit:

    Face shields

    Provincial and federal messaging doesn't state for the public to wear a face shield as a substitution for a face covering.

    Face shields are intended to be used by health care workers and are worn in addition to other personal protective equipment. A face covering creates a complete or near-complete barrier on the sides of the wearer's face. A face shield is open on the sides, which allows some small particles and aerosols to enter. Watch a short video on the difference and why face coverings are so important.

    A medical mask is a critical piece of personal protective equipment that must be reserved for health care workers and other medical first responders.

  • By-law enforcement

    The primary objective is to educate the public about the importance of wearing face coverings in enclosed public places and gain voluntary compliance.

    You may wish to refrain from reporting individual non-compliance issues for now, as we all learn the new rules. Regional or local by-law enforcement or Niagara Regional Police Services may respond to reports of significant or ongoing non-compliance.

    Residents, businesses and visitors are all asked to do their part to protect the health of the community, and comply with the by-law.

    If you have concerns about someone not wearing a mask or face covering, keep in mind that there are a number of exemptions to the by-law, not everyone can wear a mask and many disabilities are invisible. There's no requirement for people to prove they are exempt.

    Residents and business owners should not engage in confrontations with members of the public who aren't wearing a face covering. Instead, you may politely remind patrons of the by-law requirement. Residents and business owners should take people at their word, and be kind and respectful.

    Here are some steps you can take to help your customers:

    • Ask if they need help
    • Ask if they're aware of the new mandatory mask by-law and exemptions
    • Offer hand sanitizer
    • Encourage them to practise physical distancing
    • Offer alternative service delivery (if available), such as take-out options and curbside pick-up where physical distancing is a challenge

    Every owner / operator of an enclosed public space must take reasonable steps to comply with the by-law including:

    • Posting visible signage at all entrances
    • Adopting a face covering policy for your business and training staff on the requirements of the policy
    • Providing hand sanitizer with a minimum of 70 per cent alcohol content at public entrances and exits

Frequently Asked Questions on Face Coverings

  • Is there a difference between a face covering and face / mouth shield?

    Yes, a big difference. Face coverings are recommended for the general public to wear. Face / mouth shields are not a substitute for wearing a face covering as they don't filter respiratory droplets. Face shields are intended to be used by health care workers and are worn in addition to other personal protective equipment. A face shield is open on the sides which allows particles and aerosols to enter and exit.

    Plastic mouth shields are not on the Health Canada medical device licence product list for personal protective equipment. As a non-medical mask it has significant gaps, particularly around the nose and top of the mask. It does not fit closely to the face and provides inadequate protection from particles and aerosols.

    Wearing a face / mouth shield alone does not meet the requirements of the Regional by-law. A face shield may be worn in addition to a face covering if so desired.

    Watch a short video on the difference between face coverings and face shields and why wearing face coverings is so important.

  • Do I need to wear my face covering when I am seated at the table to eat and drink at a restaurant?

    No. While consuming food or drink, you do not need to wear your face covering. If you are leaving your table for any reason, your face covering should be worn.

  • Do I have to wear a face covering in my residential apartment building or condominium common areas?

    The by-law doesn't include common areas of residential buildings or condominiums, as they are not considered public spaces accessible by the general public.

    Residential building owners or condominium boards may choose to implement their own policies within their buildings. See St. Catharines Mandatory Masks By-law.

    Whether or not there is a policy or legal requirement in place, wearing a face covering is recommended by public health officials as an additional measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and all Niagara residents and businesses are asked to do their part to protect the health of the community.

  • Do I still need to stay two metres away from others if I am wearing a face covering?

    Yes. Wearing a face covering isn't an alternative to physical distancing. Make every effort to keep a two metre distance from others, even when wearing a face covering.

  • Do I need to wear my face covering while working out at a fitness facility?

    No, you don't need to wear a face covering while participating in a sport or other strenuous physical activity (this includes water-based activities). If you're entering and exiting the fitness facility, in the change room or washroom, your face covering should be worn.

  • Does our by-law specify covering nose, mouth and chin?

    Yes, the definition of face covering section is highlighted in section1(9) of the Regional by-law. For the purposes of this by-law, a face covering shall mean a mask or other face covering, including a bandana or scarf constructed of cloth, linen or other similar fabric that fits securely to the head and is large enough to completely and comfortably cover the mouth, nose and chin without gaping.

    Face shields or plastic mouth shields are not a substitute for masks / face coverings as they don't filter respiratory droplets.

  • For municipalities that have already passed their own by-law, does the Regional by-law replace it?

    Municipalities have ability to pass their own mask by-law under the Municipal Act, and St. Catharines and Niagara-on-the-Lake have already elected to do so. Businesses, residents and visitors to those municipalities should familiarize themselves with the regulations in place for each municipality. An individual can comply with both by-laws. In the event of a conflict, it would usually be resolved in favour of the Regional face covering by-law.

  • Do I need to wear a face covering in a pavilion or a tent?

    No. Wearing a face covering only applies to enclosed public places.

  • How can I properly handle my face covering between uses?

    Proper handling of a face covering is important to protect you from this virus.

    If the face covering is doing its job, it will block the virus from infecting you, or others, so it may have the virus on it after use.

    • Fold the outside of the face covering in on itself, so only the inside of the face covering is facing outwards
    • Store it in its own bag or container before placing it into your pocket, purse or vehicle. Discard the bag or clean and disinfect the container after use.

    Don't do the following:

    • Reuse face coverings that are moist, dirty or damaged
    • Wear a loose face covering
    • Touch your face covering while wearing it
    • Remove the face covering to talk to someone
    • Hang your face covering from your chin, neck or ears
    • Hang your face covering from the rearview mirror of your vehicle
    • Share your face covering
    • Leave your used face covering within the reach of others

    Remember, wearing a non-medical face covering or mask alone will not prevent the spread of COVID-19. You must also clean your hands often, practise physical distancing and stay home if you're sick.

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