Doctor urges Canadians to ‘avoid getting infected’ and mask up amid viral surge

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Ontario recommends masking as mandate debate continues
WATCH: Ontario recommends masking as mandate debate continues – Nov 13, 2022

With respiratory illnesses raging across the nation and pediatric hospitals facing increased patient volumes – all as COVID-19 continues to circulate – Canadians are being urged by a doctor to mask up to stay protected and do what they can to try not to get sick.

“If you can avoid getting infected, you should avoid getting infected,” Isaac Bogoch, infectious diseases specialist at Toronto General Hospital, told the Roy Green Show.

Although masks aren’t perfect at a population level, they do reduce the risk of infection, according to Bogoch.

“Our hospitals are stretched, especially the pediatric hospitals, and [masking] reduces the risk of transmission in the community,” he said.
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Click to play video: 'Surge of sick kids prompts calls for mask mandate return'
Surge of sick kids prompts calls for mask mandate return

In Ontario, where the number of children requiring intensive care in hospitals outpaced the available number of pediatric hospital beds as of late last week, new recommendations are soon expected from the province’s top doctor.

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On Monday, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore is reportedly planning to make an announcement where he will recommend the public regularly wear masks.

Also on Monday, SickKids hospital will begin canceling non-urgent surgeries as it redeploys staff to deal with a flood of very sick children in the emergency department, the pediatric wards and intensive care.

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Many children have been coming into the hospital sick with RSV, officially known as respiratory syncytial virus. The virus is a common fall and winter illness that saw an unusual late summer emergence this year and still continues to slam hospitals today.

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Symptoms of the virus can include fever, cough and shortness of breath, according to Bogoch.

“It’s a nasty virus,” he said. “It’s been known to cause problems in little kids and older adults for ages.”

Earlier this month, as cases of flu continue to spread across the country, influenza activity also crossed the seasonal threshold, Canada’s public health agency announced.

Though influenza cases happen on a yearly basis, according to Bogoch, this flu season is emerging faster than most.

During the first two years of the COVID pandemic, influenza activity remained low. But the percentage of tests positive for flu now are “much greater” than what is normally expected, Bogoch recently told Global News about this year’s flu season.

During a virtual update late last week, Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said the “increased growth” in viruses points to the need for “stepped-up precautions.”

“Although public health measures, including our individual prevention practices, kept COVID-19 and seasonal respiratory viruses at bay for the past two-plus years, this third winter of COVID-19 comes with some cautions,” said Tam.

Tam stopped short of calling for mask mandates but recommended they be used indoors.

Although there seems to be a “plateau” in the recent surge of COVID-19 cases, Tam said emerging Omicron variants BQ.1.1 and BF.7 are on the rise.

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Along with masking, experts including Tam and Bogoch are also recommending for Canadians to stay vaccinated.

“It’s important to get those vaccines,” Bogoch said. “The real key thing here is it’s time sensitive. There’s a lot of COVID circulating right now. There’s an increasing burden of flu circulating right now.”

And when it comes to using “immunity debt” as an explanation for the significant surge in respiratory illness in Canada, Bogoch said the term is “polarizing.”

“The short answer here is there is no conclusive answer,” he said. “Regardless of what’s driving it, you can reduce your risk of severe illness by getting vaccinated for the flu or COVID and by putting a mask on if you go into an indoor setting.”

— With files from the Canadian Press

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