Newfoundland and Labrador's top doctor says she may lift mandatory masking rules by mid-August, as long as at least half the population is fully vaccinated.
On Wednesday, Chief Medical of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said the mandate could be revised two weeks after 50 per cent of the eligible population receives a second dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
The province expects to hit that goal next week, said Fitzgerald, with Health Minister John Haggie noting 42 per cent of the eligible population has been fully vaccinated.
Under the revised rules, Fitzgerald said, masks would not be mandatory in most public spaces, provided COVID-19 epidemiology across the province and country remains in its current place.
"This can only happen if we get our vaccination rates where we need to be. And this is where we need everyone to step up," Fitzgerald said. "We all have to work together to make sure our loved ones are protected, our communities are protected, and to get back to normal."
In order to help reach vaccination goals, both Fitzgerald and Haggie reiterated the public should avoid holding out for a specific vaccine as a second dose, as the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are interchangeable for a second dose.
Non-medical masks have been mandatory in indoor public spaces since Aug. 24, 2020, for people age five and older.
If the mask mandate is lifted, Fitzgerald said, it will be lifted for everyone, regardless of vaccination status. However, she said there would still be some places where masking is required like in long-term care homes. And masking will remain recommended, she said.
"If you're in a situation where you don't know everybody's vaccination status, if you're not fully vaccinated, if you're around a lot of people you don't know, then certainly we would recommend wearing a mask in those situations," Fitzgerald said.
Asked how the revised mask mandate would affect students, Fitzgerald said conversations with the Department of Education and Newfoundland and Labrador English School District are ongoing. A COVID-19 vaccine has not yet been approved for people under 12 years old.
"Certainly we are working through those plans now, but our goal is really to have this school year be as normal as possible," Fitzgerald said.