Canada’s top doctors say you should keep wearing your mask, even as provinces increasingly drop their COVID-19 mask mandates.
Saskatchewan, Alberta, B.C. and Manitoba have all lifted mask mandates in most indoor spaces.
Ontario is poised to drop its masking rules in most places on Monday, while Quebec plans to do so by mid-April. Most of these jurisdictions, however, still require masking in some high-risk settings.
Provinces have cited dropping COVID-19 cases and high vaccination rates as justification for the decision to ditch mandatory masks.
Despite the moves to ditch mandated face coverings, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said on Friday that wearing a mask is still a very good idea.
She recommended that Canadians “continue wearing a well-constructed, well-fitting mask as an important added layer of protection, even if not required by local authorities.”
“We’re in a period of uncertainty where the the virus is still undergoing evolution,” Tam said.
“So getting vaccines plus wearing a mask is still a really good idea.”
Wearing a mask isn’t only a decision that impacts you, Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Howard Njoo added, but one that protects other as well.
“Wearing a well-constructed and well-fitting mask is an important, proven personal protection measure. Even if there’s no mandate…it’s still a good idea, certainly, in some contexts,” Njoo said, speaking in French.
Masking protects the wearer by cutting down the number of respiratory particles they inhale, according to Health Canada. But it protects others, too, as fewer of the wearer’s respiratory particles will circulate in a given space.
On Thursday, Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table released projections that further proved this fact. They found masks are an “effective public health measure to reduce COVID-19 transmission.”
“Recent studies from the United States analyzed the impact of mask-wearing on SARS-CoV-2 community transmission: mandatory masking reduced the incidence of SARS-CoV-2 infection consistently,” the science table noted.
And while cases have declined in recent weeks, the latest figures show the case counts are levelling off, Tam said on Friday.
That’s “not unexpected” as provinces ease restrictions, but the more-transmissible Omicron subvariant, known as BA.2, is also spreading in areas with lower vaccination rates or that didn’t have higher rates of prior COVID-19 spread.
Dr. Gerald Evans, a professor at Queen’s University who specializes in infectious diseases, says masking and capacity limits should remain in place until the full impact of BA.2 is known.
“I think it’s just been rushed a little bit too quickly,” he told Global News. “If we’re not quick to reduce restrictions … we could probably keep that BA.2 wave down a little bit.
There are more than 115,000 positive COVID-19 cases in Canada right now, and more than 13 per cent of tests taken are coming back positive — a number that suggests many cases are going undocumented in Canadian communities, infectious disease specialists have warned.
In Ontario, where mask mandates are slated to end in just three days, officials say masking is still highly recommended for the immunocompromised or those at high risk of a severe outcome from COVID-19.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford added that “anyone who wants to wear a mask” is “more than welcome to.”
“It’s going to be up to the people,” Ford said last week.
He said he’ll continue wearing his mask to work for “a few days” after the mandate lifts.
“Everyone’s going to follow the proper protocols and if you want to keep your mask on, God bless you. You can keep your mask on. And if you don’t, then that’s fine too,” Ford said.
Whether you choose to follow PHAC’s advice or not, Tam said Canadians should respect people’s comfort levels as they navigate the latest phase of the pandemic.
“I encourage Canadians to show each other compassion and respect that we make decisions to protect ourselves, our families and our communities, especially those at highest risk,” she said.
“These times of transition can be challenging and stressful to navigate.”
— with files from Global News’ Sean Boynton, Ryan Rocca, Gabby Rodrigues and Aya Al-Hakim