Starting Friday, July 24, non-medical masks will be mandatory on public transit in Nova Scotia, for both drivers and passengers.
This includes municipal transit buses and ferries, school buses, community transit vehicles and private taxis and shuttles.
"Public transportation does not include buses or other vehicles that are transporting employees in a work situation," stated Dr. Robert Strang on Friday. "It does not include provincial ferries. They're small and mostly outdoors, there's not a need for masks on provincial ferries."
"It also does not include ferries that go between the Atlantic provinces. Those aren't under our direct jurisdiction."
The province's chief medical officer of health said evidence on the effectiveness of non-medical masks has evolved throughout the pandemic response, and they are now believed to help limit the spread of the virus.
"Many people have to use the bus to function in our communities," Strang said. "Buses are clearly a closed environment and there have been some cases linked with being on a bus."
Children under two and those with a valid medical reason are exempt.
However, Strang said most Nova Scotians wouldn't fall into that category as there only are few situations where people wouldn't be able to wear one.
"The Canadian Thoracic Society clearly states there is no evidence that wearing a non-medical mask worsens a chronic lung condition, such as asthma or chronic obstructive lung disease," the province's top doctor said.
"But I do recognize that for some people with chronic breathing conditions, wearing a mask can create anxiety. There are also people with mental health conditions for whom wearing a mask, again, can create significant anxiety."
Strang believes most Nova Scotians will want to "do the right thing" and wear a mask on transit, but said it would be up to transit authorities, like Halifax Transit, to decide if and how they will enforce the new rules.
"We're asking you to do this in a positive way," he said. "Don't look for reasons to not wear a mask."
Strang stressed face shields should not be considered an alternative to masks.
"They only give your eyes additional protection, they do not protect others ... where we need to have masks on, we need to wear maks," he said. "There's no replacement for them."
Strang called this a "first step," cautioning mandatory non-medical masks could be expanded to other places where physical distancing isn't always possible.
The Amalgamated Transit Union Local 508 president is applauding the new regulation.
Ken Wilson has been pushing for mandatory masks on Halifax Transit.
He took to Twitter to say "Thank you @StrangRobert for finally mandating masks on public transit. We all play a role in keeping each other safe."
The province is also easing visitor restrictions at long-term care homes.
As of July 22, indoor visits will be allowed by appointment with a limited number of people.
Masks must be worn and physical distancing is still required, however some contact will be allowed for hugs.
In addition, sightseeing bus trips for groups of up to 10 people (including residents, staff and driver) are allowed, but residents and staff aren't allowed to get off the bus. The vehicles will need to be thoroughly cleaned before and after each trip.
Licensed hair salons within long-term care homes are also allowed to reopen.