'Let's stop calling them restrictions...they are protections': Canada divided on the use of mask mandates as sixth wave soars

'Let's stop calling them restrictions...they are protections': Canada divided on the use of mask mandates as sixth wave soars

Much of the COVID-19 discussions across Canada this week have been debates around whether reintroducing public health mandates, primarily masking, should be considered as cases continue to rise across the country.

According to a study from Modus Research, which surveyed 1,200 Canadians between March 1 and March 18, 44 per cent of respondents indicated that they were opposed to removing masking requirement, which 41 per cent supported the decision.

Ontario

Significant concerns around Ontario’s sixth wave of COVID-19, as making mandates have been removed and PCR testing is very limited, were top of mind this week.

According to The Canadian Press, Dr. Peter Juni, head of Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, warned that a “tidal wave” is being created.

"If we had consistent communication...recommending that it would be really important right now for everybody to wear masks indoors again, coming from all sides, including the province, this would help,” Dr. Juni told The Canadian Press.

Wastewater analysis suggests Ontario is seeing between 100,000 and 120,000 new cases of COVID-19 a day.

Despite the cries for COVID-19 measures, primarily a mask mandate, to be reintroduced, Ontario’s Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, Christine Elliott,

“Dr. Moore has indicated that we don’t need to bring back the mask mandate and he has said in the past that we should have expected that the numbers would go up as we open up Ontario,” Elliott told reporters on Wednesday.

This week, Ontario expanded eligibility for a fourth dose of a COVID-19 vaccine to individuals 60 and older, and First Nation, Inuit and Métis individuals and their non-Indigenous household members aged 18.

"As we continue to live with COVID-19, we are using every tool available to manage this virus and reduce its impact on our hospitals and health system, including by expanding the use of booster doses," a statement from Elliott reads.

Manitoba

Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief public health officer, identified that the Omicron BA.2 subvariant of COVID-19 now accounts for 60 per cent of cases in the province.

"We've seen those increases in cases, transmission, wastewater, we've heard of the increases in hospitalizations, but our modelling continues to show a relative plateau in admissions," Dr. Roussin said.

“COVID is going to continue to circulate in our communities. Right now we’re seeing a period of increased transmission related to that BA.2, but COVID is going to be with us for some time and we all know the steps that we can take to protect ourselves and the people around us.”

He added that where Manitoba, in terms of the severity of BA.2 and the level of vaccination in the province, at the “right spot” for public health interventions.

The province also expanded its eligibility for individuals able to receive a fourth dose of a COVID-19 vaccine to peoplee 70 and older, and First Nations, Inuit and Métis people 50 and older.

Quebec

Dr. Luc Boileau, Quebec’s interim public health director, announced Tuesday that the province’s masking mandate will remain in place until at least April 30, stating that officials would prefer to take a more “careful” approach to the pandemic.

Omicron subvariant BA.2 accounts for about 75 per cent of new cases in Quebec.

As of Monday, April 11, people in Quebec 60 and older will be eligible for a fourth dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Alberta

Alberta officials maintain that adding COVID-19 measures is not in the plans but Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province's chief medical officer of health, did stay that individuals should reintroduce some of those measures personally, if possible COVID-19 exposure is a concern.

“We need to make decisions that best fit our risk factors, risk tolerance and comfort level,” she said on Thursday. “Mask use in crowded public spaces is a very prudent measure for all of us to take right now.”

“These are small actions that can have a big impact on community transmission and our individual risks. Living with COVID means finding the right balance as we navigate this transition together.”

Alberta is also expanding access to a fourth dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Beginning Tuesday, April 12 Albertans age 70 and older, First Nations, Métis and Inuit people in Alberta age 65 and older, and all seniors in congregate care regardless of age, can receive their fourth shot.

Saskatchewan

Dr. Saqib Shahab, Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer, stated this week that the province is not in the sixth wave of the pandemic, but it is seeing a resurgence.

“We may see a bit of resurgence now, it may quiet down over the summer, and then a resurgence in the fall,” Dr. Shahab said on Thursday.

He continued to stress that residents in Saskatchewan getting vaccinated, including booster shots, is critically important, and will impact what a possible upcoming sixth wave would look like.

Nova Scotia

Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health, has officially stated that the province is in the sixth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, but stressed that adding restrictions is not an effective strategy.

“There is no doubt the current situation is concerning,” Dr. Strang said on Thursday. “COVID is challenging us once.”

“We are now at the point where we can no longer justify the use of restrictive measures and mandates… Widespread restrictions are no longer necessary in the management of this pandemic. I want to be perfectly clear on that point, at this time public health is not recommending the use of restriction public health measures.”

Long-term care residents and adults 70 and older in Nova Scotia will be able to receive a fourth dose of a COVID-19 vaccine 120 days following their first booster shot.

"Most adults will get maximum protection from three doses of vaccine – that is, a two-dose primary series plus one booster. However, evidence has shown some weakening in protection against severe disease over time for those at highest risk due to age," a statement from Dr. Strang reads.

"A second booster is now recommended for those over the age of 70. By getting all the available doses recommended for your age group and health status, you are not only protecting yourself from severe disease, you’re protecting the people around you, too."

British Columbia

British Columbia is shifting from a “case-management” model to a "surveillance” approach to COVID-19 reporting.

The province has made the change to publicly report COVID-19 data on a weekly basis instead of daily.