Ontario’s chief medical officer of health has announced that most of the province’s remaining mask mandates will be lifted come Saturday.
In a statement released Wednesday, Dr. Kieran Moore said most of the province’s remaining masking requirements will be lifted as of 12 a.m.
It means the provincial requirement to wear masks in many settings deemed high risk will be dropped, though organizations can continue to make their own rules.
An overview of Ontario’s masking rules
The province’s mask mandate for most indoor public settings was lifted on March 21, but rules were kept in place for settings deemed higher risk.
Higher-risk settings included public transit, health-care settings, long-term care and retirement homes, as well as shelters and other congregate care settings that provide services to “medically and socially vulnerable individuals,” the province said.
Mandates for those settings were previously set to be lifted on April 27, but were extended to June 11.
What’s changing come Saturday
Most of Ontario’s remaining mask mandates will be lifted on Saturday, but masking will still be required in long-term care and retirement homes, Moore said Wednesday.
The province will no longer require masks on public transit.
Directives will also be revoked and replaced with guidance from the Ministry of Health for health-care workers and organizations.
Masking is still recommended in “higher-risk congregate settings,” like group homes and shelters, Moore said.
Hospitals keeping masking rules
“While masking requirements are expiring, organizations may implement their own policies,” Moore noted in his statement.
Several hospitals have confirmed to Global News that they will be keeping masking requirements in place after the provincial mandate lifts Saturday.
Included are the University Health Network, Sinai Health, Unity Health Toronto, Women’s College Hospital, SickKids, Sunnybrook, and Lakeridge Health.
Hospitals in Waterloo Region, Guelph and Fergus also said their rules would remain.
The Canadian Press reported that a spokesperson for Hotel-Dieu Grace Healthcare in Windsor, Ont., said the hospital intends “to continue with the mask mandate which includes the requirement for everyone to have a mask on in our hospital at all times.”
Two other hospitals in the region, Windsor Regional Hospital and Erie Shores Healthcare, also said they would keep masking rules for all visitors, staff and most patients, to protect elderly and immune-compromised patients.
It can be expected that many other hospitals will likely follow suit.
Masks on public transit
Transit agencies will also be able to make their own rules regarding masking come Saturday.
The City of Toronto said masks will be strongly recommended but no longer mandatory on the conventional TTC system. They will, however, be mandatory for customers and employees on the TTC’s Wheel-Trans system.
“The decision not to introduce a new mandate on the conventional TTC system was made following discussions with public health officials and other transit agencies in the Greater Toronto Area, ensuring consistent rules for transit customers across the region,” a TTC statement said.
The City said masks will also no longer be required on City-operated ferries.
On GO Transit and UP Express, the mandate will be dropped.
Elsewhere, other transit systems have said they will be dropping the requirement, including in London, Barrie, and Ottawa.
In Hamilton, masks won’t be required for the conventional system, but will still be mandatory for accessible transit services.
A spokesperson for the City of Windsor, meanwhile, told Global News “masks will still be required on Windsor Transit for a while longer.”
‘Significant progress’ made in fight against COVID: Moore
Moore said Wednesday that the decision to lift most remaining masking requirements was made amid high vaccination rates and an improvement in the province’s overall COVID-19 situation.
“Thanks to the efforts of all Ontarians following public health measures and getting vaccinated we have made significant progress in the fight against COVID-19,” he said.
“However, I want to remind Ontarians to stay home when sick and, most importantly, get vaccinated and boosted if eligible. Staying up to date with vaccination is the best protection against severe outcomes and will help us maintain the progress we have made.”
Moore said Ontarians should continue wearing a mask if they feel it is right for them, are at high risk for severe illness, are recovering from COVID, have COVID symptoms, or are a close contact of someone with the virus.