Ontario’s top doctor says the province isn’t reinstating a widespread mask mandate right now, but issued a “strong recommendation” for individuals to wear a mask in indoor public settings as COVID-19 figures trend upward.
Dr. Kieran Moore made the remarks Monday at his first press briefing since early March.
“In the last few weeks, we have seen an increase in the per cent positivity and upward trend in wastewater surveillance and a rise in hospitalizations,” Moore said.
“These trends are likely to continue for the next several weeks but there are actions that we can take to help manage the impact of this wave such as layering the personal protective measures we have adopted so well over the last two years, even when they may not be legally required.
“These include a strong recommendation to continue wearing a well-fitted three-layer mask or use of a medical mask in all public indoor settings.”
He also asked that individuals adhere to masking where it is still required, including on public transit and in various health-care settings, congregate care settings, as well as long-term care and retirement homes.
He also noted the federal requirement that international travellers wear a mask in public for 14 days after they have come into Canada.
Ontario’s mask mandate lifted for most indoor public settings on March 21.
“I also want to remind Ontarians that if you test positive for COVID-19, you should continue to wear a mask at all times for five days following your isolation period and avoid vulnerable people and places like hospitals and long-term care,” Moore continued.
“Also for masking, household and other close contacts of a COVID-positive case are reminded that they should be wearing a mask at all times and avoiding vulnerable individuals and settings for 10 days.”
Moore said while the province is not reinstating a widespread mandate “at this time,” it may be brought back if a new variant of concern emerges, there is a threat to the health-care system, or during the winter when COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses spread more rapidly.
Moore said that the province is in the sixth wave of the pandemic, driven by the Omicron BA.2 variant. He said with the lifting of restrictions, health officials anticipated a rise in COVID-19 trends.
He said that vaccination remains one of the best ways to protect against severe illness and called on individuals to get their booster shots.
Moore also touted anti-viral treatments, which the province announced it was expanding eligibility for.
He said there will likely be a rise in the risk of COVID-19 transmission for the next six to eight weeks.
Makes ‘tremendous sense’ to maintain masking in high-risk settings beyond April 27: Moore
Moore was asked whether the province should still lift all remaining masking requirements on April 27, which was in a government plan released in March.
“We think this wave is not going to be settling until the middle or end of May and as a result, we’re looking at extension for all of those high-risk facilities,” he said.
“Anyone in those congregate settings, shelters, retirement homes, long-term care homes, we’re — and transit, absolutely — considering maintaining it. Our teams drafting it will present that to government and the government will make the final decision. But to me, that makes tremendous sense to maintain it.”
Moore was also asked why, if there is a strong recommendation to mask, a mandate isn’t reinstated for settings like schools.
He said that the province is still providing free masks to students and education workers which “can and should be used.”
“But we’ve already responded that an individual risk is exceptionally low for hospitalization in that setting, for severe outcomes in that setting,” he said.
“And (I) want to also continue to promote immunization for all those children that haven’t had their booster dose from 12 to 18 or who haven’t got their primary series from five to 11, which is still 40 per cent of children.”
Earlier Monday, Health Minister Christine Elliott said that Ontario will reintroduce mask mandates if the province’s top doctors recommend it.
In the legislature, Elliott said that Moore confers with local medical officers of health on a regular basis and if they recommend a return to mandatory masking, the province will heed their advice.
During an unrelated press conference Monday, Premier Doug Ford was asked whether there is concern that there could be confusion regarding masking in Ontario given Moore’s strong recommendation to mask but lack of a mandate.
“I think it really comes down to common sense. We’ve been through this for two years,” Ford said.
“When you walk into a real crowded room, throw the mask on. No one’s going to force you, but I would recommend it. Just put the mask on. But you know, we’re well-equipped now. We’ve learned so much over the last two years. We’ve built up the capacity with 3,100 additional beds. We’ve hired 8,600 health-care workers. We have the anti-viral pills online.”
The premier also noted that Ontario is “one of the most vaccinated regions in the world.”
— With files from The Canadian Press