London health officials stress mask-wearing amid provincial restrictions lifting

Side view of people using smart phones against a wall. They are surfing the net and sharing content. They are wearing protective face masks. FilippoBacci/Getty Images

With Ontario lifting mask mandates at the end of the month, local health-care workers and other agencies are urging caution.

Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Kieran Moore, said starting March 21, Ontario will remove mask mandates for most social settings including restaurants, gyms, large event spaces and schools.

But London’s medical officer of health says despite masks no longer being required for most social settings, people should still wear them.

“We continue to have high Omicron transmission in our region. Although it is declining, it is likely given the reduction in public health protections, that rates may, in fact, increase,” Dr. Alex Summers said.

“So it’s important that we take a layered approach to protecting ourselves, vaccination being the cornerstone of it, but continuing to mask where you can in indoor environments.”

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Summers recommended people continue wearing masks at least through the months of March and April.

With the masking rule for schools lifting right after March break, Dr. Summers urged parents to still encourage their children to wear the masks.

“Recognizing that masks are not the perfect solution, they can still be of great help, and so for parents and guardians out there, if you’ve got a kid who’s happily wearing a mask, I would continue to strongly encourage them to do so,” he said.

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Dr. Nitin Mohan, professor at Western and expert in infectious disease surveillance, said individuals indoors and poorly ventilated areas should still wear a mask.

“I am interested to see what happens in fall and winter as risks of virus transmission increase. We have seen wonderful unintended befits from masks, decreases in cold and flu rates, so for some parts of the population, putting masks on in colder weather will be second nature, and other parts of the population may refrain from it,” he said.

The mask mandate will still be in effect for public transit or health-care settings like a hospital, long-term care homes and high-risk congregate care settings. The province has said it will lift all other mask requirements and other directives April 27th.

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“And anyone who wants to wear a mask … They’re more than welcome to. It’s going to be up to the people,” Premier Doug Ford said Wednesday at an unrelated news conference in Brantford, Ont., just minutes before Moore was set to speak.

London Health Sciences Centre’s Children’s Hospital is among hospitals within the Children’s Health Coalition urging people to continue masking schools.

In a joint statement, the coalition said it has “been pleased to see the decline in the school absenteeism, outbreaks, and paediatric hospitalization over the last eight weeks.”

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“Since we know that most cases of COVID-19 identified in schools originate outside of school, we would have preferred to see masks kept in place for two weeks after March Break so we could have assessed the impact of the broader re-opening of Ontario,” the statement read.

— with files Global News’ from Gabby Rodrigues

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COVID-19: Ontario lifts mask mandate in most settings March 21, all directives by April 27

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