Following Ontario’s chief medical officer making a plea for people to return to voluntary mask-wearing amid a surge in hospital demand, Hamilton Public Health (HPH) says it will not be issuing any mandate of its own.
Despite rising fears that COVID-19 cases could further jeopardize the province’s struggling health-care system, Dr. Kieron Moore on Monday stopped short of announcing a return to mandatory masking.
Resident physician Dr. Brendan Lew told 900 CHML’s Good Morning Hamilton that HPH is following the province’s lead and strongly recommending the use of a well-fitting mask in indoor settings in conjunction with other health measures, including vaccines, staying home if ill, and good hand hygiene.
“We’ve seen through the pandemic … having a patchwork of different measures in different regions is really not the most effective way of reducing transmission of COVID or really any other respiratory illness,” Lew said.
“Any measure we are looking at for Hamilton is something that we will be looking to implement at the provincial level.”
Over 80 per cent of some 12,000 respondents to an online 900 CHML poll say they would not be receptive to the province forcing a mask mandate on them despite rising COVID case numbers in the city.
In an interview with Global News last weekend, Moore suggested the possibility of re-implementing the mandatory mask policy if COVID, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and the flu continue to fuel high viral activity through the winter months.
Data maintained by Public Health Ontario shows the percentage of positive COVID-19 tests increased at the beginning of October.
In the week ending Sept. 10, 11.4 per cent of tests in Ontario came back positive. That number sat at 13.3 per cent in the week ending Oct. 1.
Hospital admissions are also higher than they were in the spring, although below where they were at the beginning of the year. In the week ending Oct. 1, 365 people were admitted to hospital in Ontario with COVID-19.
Compounding the issue is the rate of uptake for fourth doses by Ontarians aged 70 and older — around 16 per cent — a number Moore characterizes as “not acceptable.”
So far, only about 20 per cent of Hamilton’s population have completed their primary vaccinations and had a pair of booster shots.
The city’s latest Scarsin COVID forecast is predicting increases in hospital admissions towards the end of November with a peak of about six admissions a day by late December and early January.
Last week, McMaster Children’s hospital revealed admissions to its emergency department were 20 per cent higher than usual for this time of year, equating to up to 200 admissions per day.
Over the past three weeks, the city’s test positivity rate increased from 21.5 per cent on Oct. 21 to 23.4 per cent on Nov. 4.
Lew says stress of that kind is indicative of what the local health-care system is facing, resurrecting talk of masks indoors.
“We’re really calling upon Hamiltonians to wear that mask in that crowded indoor setting. Make sure you have your flu shot and your updated bivalent COVID vaccine,” Lew said.