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Mask mandate will likely be lifted in schools when it is removed for wider public: Ontario top doc

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Ontario’s mask mandate will likely be lifted in schools when it is removed for most public spaces, the province’s top doctor says.

Dr. Kieran Moore made the comment during his weekly COVID-19 update Thursday, but noted that masking requirements will remain in place “for the time being.”

“Masking does remain an important tool in our tool box and even when it’s no longer required in public settings, it will continue to be an effective tool for reducing transmission and protecting those recovering from illness, their close contacts, and those who may be more vulnerable to severe COVID-19 infection,” Moore said.

“Some in our communities may also choose to continue wearing them regularly and we need to be respectful of individual choices once masking is no longer required.”

Read more: Ontario mask mandate will likely be reviewed in March, top doctor says

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Moore was asked by a reporter whether all masking requirements would be removed at the same time, or if it would be phased and if so, where schools stood on that list.

“The consultations have started and we will be working with school boards, with parents, with the ministries and make a decision together,” he said. “But we do anticipate if we remove it in the public sector, we would do it simultaneously for the schools.”

Read more: Ontario should ‘strongly’ look at easing masking requirements in schools, Brampton mayor says

Moore previously indicated that if the mask mandate is lifted for most public areas, it would likely remain in place for public transit and schools a bit longer.

He said Thursday that masking policies would still likely remain in place for the “highest-risk settings” after being removed for most public spaces.

“I would absolutely want to reflect that high-risk settings such as public transit, such as hospitals and long-term care, would maintain a masking policy beyond when we appeal it for general indoor settings for Ontarians,” he said.

“The highest-risk settings, I think, we’ve learned that the masks have benefit. They reduce the risk of spread of multiple different pathogens — not just COVID — and have provided a safety net that is necessary in those high-risk settings to so many patients and populations.”

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He noted that the policy would continue to be reviewed over time.

But for schools, Moore said he has received feedback indicating that it “makes sense” to lift the mask mandate when it’s removed for most indoor public settings.

“The general feedback from the community members that we’ve sought feedback from at present is if you’re going to lift them in recreational facilities and in other indoor facilities, it just makes sense to also do it simultaneously for (the) educational sector,” he said.

Last week, Moore said he anticipated a review of the mask mandate will be done in the second or third week of March, allowing for data to be analyzed after the province lifts capacity limits and the proof of vaccination requirement next Tuesday.

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“If and when we transition, it would be from a mandate to mask, to a recommendation to mask,” he said at the time.

Also, Moore had previously said he wanted to end workplace COVID-19 vaccination policies in sectors such as hospitals and post-secondary institutions on Tuesday.

But he said that he is working with the various sectors, and removing those policies may take longer.

Moore also said he is reviewing isolation requirements, such as those for people with COVID-19 symptoms and their household members.

Public health indicators are improving, though the risk from the virus remains, he said.

— With files from The Canadian Press

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