Ontario Premier Doug Ford said Wednesday that he is encouraging Ontario residents to wear a mask whenever they are in a situation that is less safe, but stopped short of committing to any sort of renewal of mask mandates in the province.
“We said from day one, I’ll always listen to Dr. Moore’s advice and the advice he’s giving everyone, I’ll give them the same thing; wear a mask when you can when you’re within risk.”
Ford made the comment at an announcement about the building of a new highway near Bradford Wednesday morning in response to a question about whether the province might consider re-implementing masking in education settings.
The premier would not say whether the government might entertain bringing back masks in schools, but reiterated the latest advice from Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore and also encouraged people to go get their flu shots and their COVID-19 booster shots.
“Get your flu shot, get a (COVID-19 shot) too,” Ford said. “I’m going to head out there, get my fourth one, get a flu shot because I can’t chance it, old guys like me. We’re gonna get a shot just to be safe.”
The question about a possible return to masking in schools comes as doctors warn about a “perfect storm” of increasing respiratory illness as school resumes and people start spending more time indoors for the winter.
At a meeting Tuesday of Toronto’s Board of Health, Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa said the city is continuing to follow the provincial guidelines around masking, but remains ready to implement masking guidelines for schools if conditions shift.
A number of experts have been calling for a return to mask mandates in some settings as respiratory illnesses increase, especially in light of overcrowding at hospital emergency departments.
There are currently few settings in the province where masks are still mandatory.
In an interview with CP24 a week ago, Moore said the province is bracing for a “difficult” fall and winter and is watching the data on illnesses “very closely.”
He implored those who are most at risk for severe health outcomes to consider masking up as the risk increases in the province.
“I would say that the message here is you know, people are used to wearing masks and right now, just given the crisis in our health-care system, the burden that we’re seeing especially in emergency rooms, wearing masks is the right thing to do,” Chief of Family Medicine at Markham Stouffville Hospital Dr. Allan Grill told CP24 Wednesday. “It’s a way for people to sort of pitch in. It not only will help decrease transmission but we’re at a point now where we’re talking about delaying more surgeries for people, which is the last thing that we want to do.”
While there has been a focus on education settings recently, Grill said that focussing on just one setting like schools if there is a high risk of infection in the community wouldn’t make sense.
“I think that if we’re going to talk about masking, we have to talk about universal masking, it doesn’t make effective sense to just do it in one setting like a school when those kids are gonna go out, they’re gonna get together on playdates, they might go to a sporting event where there’s thousands of people not wearing masks,” he said. “So if you’re going to do this, it has to be done everywhere.”
He added that a possible return to masking would not have to be permanent and said that it may just be needed as a temporary “circuit breaker” measure.
“This is not something that has to be forever,” Grill said. “COVID has sort of turned the tables in the sense that all of these public health measures have prevented these viruses from coming around and now we have a lot of people whose immune systems, especially young kids, have not seen them and it’s a perfect storm where all these viruses come back at the same time and our health-care system is understaffed, it’s under burden.
“So all these things coming together are complicated, but I would say masking and all those other public health measures, if used properly and at the right time, can help.”
In another interview Wednesday, Ontario Medical Association (OMA) President Dr. Rose Zacharias told CP24 that the situation in Ontario hospitals is delicate as we head into a period of higher risk.
“This is the first time since the pandemic began that we are heading into a regular flu season where we don’t have the regular health restrictions in place,” she said. “So we anticipate having a regular flu season as well as COVID still circulating in our community. And we know that other viruses are also on the rise that are particularly impacting children. Our hospitals are under immense strain as well as our emergency departments. So this is what we all need to prepare for.”
She said the province needs to be ready to “pivot” back to a possible mask mandate if needed.
“We will be monitoring the situation. We are leaning into our public health officials and we need to be prepared to pivot to a mask mandate if that is the case,” Zacharias said. “Ontario’s doctors have always been recommending masks in crowded places, when meeting with vulnerable people. So we have a choice to make based on our comforts with masks, based on our own health risks, to be making those decisions for ourselves and our families.”
POLL FINDS SUPPORT FOR MASKING
While mask mandates have been ditched in most jurisdictions, a recent Nanos Research poll conducted for CTV News found that seven in 10 Canadian said they would support the return of mask mandates to some extent, while around 30 per cent opposed or somewhat opposed the idea.
Support for a possible return to masking stood at 71.4 per cent in Ontario, according to the poll, which surveyed 1,084 Canadians by phone and has a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.