COVID-19: Hamilton, Niagara medical officers hope residents will choose to keep masks

Niagara's acting medical officer of health believes the province is lifting the mask mandate 'a little bit too early.'. Greg Davis/Global News Peterborough

A pair of southern Ontario medical officers are hoping residents will keep wearing masks despite Ontario easing COVID-19 rules around the safety measure.

Niagara’s acting medical officer of health believes the province’s decision to lift the mandate is “a little bit too early” but suggests it may be offset by a significant number of individuals choosing to keep their masks on anyways.

Read more: COVID-19: Gradual increase in cases likely for Hamilton, according to public health early spring forecast

“I’m hoping that we can build that number by convincing people of the importance of doing this and showing people that … it’s still a good thing to do and hopefully encourage others,” Dr. Mustafa Hirji told 900 CHML’s Good Morning Hamilton.

As of Monday, individuals are no longer required by the province to wear a mask, except in certain settings including public transit, long-term care and retirement homes, congregate care and living facilities, homes for individuals with developmental disabilities, other health-care settings, shelters, and jails.

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Masking requirements have also been lifted in schools, as has cohorting.

Regulatory requirements for businesses have been removed, including passive screening and safety plans.

Hirji is a bit skeptical about the prospect of not having to implement another mask mandate at some point this year since epidemiological data and experience points to more waves of infections as 2022 goes on.

“I suspect we won’t end up doing that over the next month or two while we go through this … next small wave,” Hirji said.

“I do worry we’re going to see another … pretty large wave of infections come in the fall and wonder if that’s going to be something that we need to come back and do at that time.”

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Hamilton’s medical officer of health says she will be practising what she preaches and continuing to use a mask indoors and in activities that precipitate “higher breathing rates” as a method of prevention in the ongoing pandemic.

“So (I’ll) be considering those kinds of factors related to it,” Dr. Elizabeth Richardson said. “Of course, I’ll be using it any time I’m on public transit or when I’m … visiting a long-term care home or anything of such a nature.”

Richardson said she will also follow recommendations around booster vaccines as well as physical distancing.

“So all of those sort of factors come into it when I’m thinking about what kind of approaches I’m going to take to reduce my risk of COVID 19,” Richardson said.

Read more: COVID-19: Hamilton councillors repeal physical distancing, face coverings bylaws

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Hamilton’s mayor said the city is in a position to reimplement health measures, like masking, quickly since the city had not yet revoked the state of emergency it implemented in March 2020.

“Our medical officer of health … has authority in some of these areas to also enact some policies should the need arise,” Fred Eisenberger said during the city’s last scheduled COVID-19 update of 2022.

However, the situation in Niagara Region is not as clear since regional councillors lifted their state of emergency last week.

The region originally declared the situation on April 3, 2020, saying the pandemic was “a real and pressing risk” to the health of the community and that residents needed to work with government to slow the spread of the virus.

Ontario is expected to go a step further at the end of April in keeping with their “Living with and Managing COVID-19” plan by lifting all remaining COVID-19 measures.

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