Science table stops short of recommending masks in Ontario schools, citing 'lack of consensus'

·3 min read
Ontario reported 1,354 COVID-19 hospitalizations on Thursday. Of those in hospital, 146 are in intensive care. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)
Ontario reported 1,354 COVID-19 hospitalizations on Thursday. Of those in hospital, 146 are in intensive care. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)

Ontario's COVID-19 science table stopped short of recommending masks in the classroom for the upcoming school year, citing a "lack of consensus" as the province saw a nearly 60 per cent jump in reported deaths linked to the virus over the last seven days.

In its latest report Thursday, the Ontario Science Advisory Table said a the lack of consensus among co-authors on mask mandates meant that it will not make a formal recommendation, and leave it up to individual choice.

"It is recognized that some school staff and students may continue to wear a mask even in the absence of a mandate," the report reads. "This choice should be respected, schools should be mask-friendly environments."

Ontario has previously said there would be no mandatory masking in schools this fall. The science table said "temporary measures" like masking, distancing, cohorting, screening, and testing "pose additional challenges to school operations, school learning, and student wellness."

Yet it affirmed that mask-wearing is the "easiest" measure to implement if needed.

Meanwhile, Ontario is reporting 89 more deaths linked to COVID-19 over the past seven days, a marked uptick from its seventh-wave high of 56 the week before and a 58.9 per cent increase.

Weekly deaths dropped last week from two weeks before when the number reported was 96. The fluctuation in reported deaths comes three weeks after Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore told reporters the latest wave of the virus, driven by the BA.5 Omicron subvariant, had peaked. However, Moore has also said that case rates are expected to rise in the fall.

The province has said the seventh wave officially began June 19.

  • Do you have a coronavirus question or news tip for CBC News? Email us at ask@cbc.ca

Deaths are considered one of the "lagging indicators" that can continue to rise even after a wave peaks.

Newly released data from the Ministry of Health on Thursday shows the number of people in hospital with the virus has also increased slightly from 1,328 last week to 1,354 as of Thursday.

The number of people in intensive care also increased to 146, compared to 137 last week. Of those in intensive care, 62 patients are on a ventilator.

COVID-19 patients in Ontario hospitals and ICUs

Test positivity on Thursday, however, was 11 per cent, lower than last week's reported number of 14.7 per cent.

Positivity rates are based on the number of people who test for the virus. This past January, the province moved to limit PCR testing to high-risk populations and settings only.

On Thursday, Public Health Ontario (PHO) also released its latest COVID-19 status report for the week of Aug. 14  to Aug. 20.

In it, the public health agency says case rates decreased in three of seven age groups. Among those aged 0 to 4, it increased two per cent, 5 to 11 increased 17 per cent, and 12 to 19 year olds increased six per cent. Those increases in younger age groups are still low compared to those 20 and older.

However, among the 80+ age group, case rates continue to be the highest. Individuals in that age group also continue to have "much higher" rates of hospitalizations and deaths compared to all other age groups, PHO says.

Experts have said reported case counts are a severe underestimate of the actual extent of COVID-19 in Ontario.