Masking will help, but not halt, the currently rampant spread of COVID-19 in Kingston and much of Ontario.
KFL&A's Medical Officer of Health Dr. Piotr Oglaza reinforced a number of basic elements to reducing the spread of COVID-19 at Thursday's public health briefing, but said that the highly transmissible B-A-2 sub-variant, currently most common in the region, is likely more to blame than the dropping of mandates.
However, Dr. Oglaza said that like it or not masking indoors does help protect those vulnerable to serious illness.
"I know that this is not the news that we wanted to hear before the long weekend," Dr. Oglaza said.
"But truly, especially for those most at risk, the safest course of action is for people to wear a mask in indoor settings."
Dr. Oglaza did not officially endorse masking indoors, and despite cases continuing to increase as vaccine and mask mandates become a thing of the past, Kingston's top doctor says stringent measures seen in other districts internationally have not been shown to stop the spread.
He says that vaccination remains the best defence against COVID strains, and that masking will not work unless used in conjunction with other safety measures.
As some Ontario school boards, like Ottawa Carleton District School Board, have decided to reinstate masks in schools, trustees at local boards like LDSB and ALCDSB have not taken such a step.
Most recently, LDSB's March 17 letter requesting an extension of the mask mandate was not obliged by the province, but the board has reiterated that it "strongly encourages" masking.
On Thursday, Dr. Oglaza didn't give a firm yes or no on whether he supports the reinstatement of masking in schools, saying instead that masking belongs in a broader public health conversation.
"Masking would be an additional measure that could be added but it will not be effective unless other elements are followed diligently," Dr. Oglaza said.
"That's really where that masking discussion has to be placed, in the context of everything else that's being done and everything else that's being followed diligently."
Dr. Oglaza also said while there have been more COVID related deaths in the community, they are being investigated in order determine whether COVID was directly responsible or found alongside other circumstances.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for KHSC said that community spread has provided a strain on staffing in local healthcare.
"Currently we're seeing more staff calling in sick with COVID than at any point earlier in the pandemic," KHSC said.
They said that last week the local healthcare network was "well over 170" call-ins per day.
"That number doesn't include those who are isolating an unable to work due to a close contact," KHSC said.
"Potentially that would be dozens more individuals a day meaning we're well above 200 people off work daily."
That high a number is challenging the ability to provide typical levels of pre-pandemic care, they say.
KHSC says most staff are acquiring COVID in the community and not at work, and as such plead with the public to consider masking indoors, isolating if symptomatic and getting vaccinated.
As of Sunday, the KFL&A region had 10 people hospitalized with COVID.
Owen Fullerton, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, YGK News