WINDSOR, ONT. -- More than 250 people have signed a petition calling for a mandatory mask policy to be enforced in Chatham-Kent.

Chatham resident and former nurse, Tera Fox started the petition on Monday and created a “Support Mandatory Masks in Chatham-Kent” Facebook group which has reached nearly 250 members.

“In a situation where you’re in a grocery store or shopping centre you’re essentially walking through someone else’s breathing space within seconds,” says Fox. “It would feel a lot safer if everyone had masks on.

Masks are mandatory in Chatham-Kent in a number of non-healthcare settings such as hair salons and for food servers. However, Dr. David Colby, Chatham-Kent’s medical officer of health will not be issuing any orders that mandate masks at all public spaces.

“I would like to know what science he’s basing his decision off of so that he can make it clear to us and we’re able to make informed decisions ourselves as to if masks are important,” says Fox.

Dr.Colby tells CTV News in an email statement, “the evidence that non-medical face coverings are effective is scant and of low quality. They are probably somewhat effective for containment, but there are downsides to masks. Particularly the Peltzman Effect."

Residents in neighbouring communities such as Windsor-Essex and London have to wear masks at indoor commercial and public spaces.

Windsor-Essex medical officer health, Dr. Wajid Ahmed is doubling down on his mandatory mask policy, announcing that fines will soon be issued for non-compliance.

“We haven’t issued any fines but I think we’re getting to the point of issuing for repeat complaints,” he says, “I think we have done a lot of education and I think it's about time we start to issue fines to get compliance from the operators.”

Fox also worries that residents of Windsor-Essex, where Stage 2 remains in place as there are over 600 active COVID-19 cases, may spread the virus.

“Having them come here to enjoy all of our Phase 3 and not having to wear a mask at the same time. I feel like that only brings infection to our area.

Dr. Colby says more comprehensive masking bylaws makes sense in population-dense jurisdictions, particularly where crowding occurs. Given Chatham-Kent’s low population density (41-43 people per square km) he believes physical distancing is the most effective way to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“Our active cases have resulted from close, usually household/family contacts of known cases, where masks would not be worn in any case. We have very few cases of asymptomatic and unlinked transmission,” he says.

Fox wants to make it clear that her petition is not trying to replace social distancing with masks, but rather have them complement each other for increased prevention.

“Wearing masks and social distancing goes hand in hand together.”

As of Wednesday, CK Transit is no longer enforcing the seating limit on busses imposed in March due to the pandemic. Dr. Colby says, “we shall mandate masks for public transportation shortly.”