As Ontario continues to battle with a sixth wave, three local medical officers have written the province’s chief medical officer of health to ask that mandatory masking be reinstated in all indoor settings.
Dr. Mustafa Hirji, Niagara Region’s medical officer of health, Dr. Shanker Nesathurai, the Windsor-Essex County’s medical officer of health, and Dr. Thomas Piggott, Peterborough’s medical officer of health, have signed the letter to Dr. Kieran Moore to emphasize their concerns about the burden COVID-19 continues to have on their communities.
The letter praised Moore for extending mask mandates in hospitals, long-term care homes, transit and other high-risk settings until June. However, the letter urged Moore to include indoor public places, including workplaces, schools, universities, colleges, and essential service places like pharmacies and groceries.
“To be fully effective and clear in communication to Ontarians, we believe this is needed at a provincial, not a local level,” the letter reads. “Like you, we had hoped that as masking and other protections ceased to be requirements, we would be able to get through this wave without much suffering or long-term disruption. Unfortunately, this does not seem to have played out as we had hoped.”
Ontario scrapped most mask mandates — including in schools, restaurants, gyms and stores — on March 21. In April, the province extended its mask mandate for high-risk indoor settings.
In their letter, the three doctors noted COVID-19 hospitalizations in their regions continue to exceed figures from previous pandemic waves. The letter states it led Niagara’s main hospital to ramp down surgeries to 70 percent, leading to 100 patients being admitted without a bed.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has clearly had a disproportionate impact on the individuals and communities with the worst social determinants of health. The current persistently high transmission of COVID-19 is exacerbating inequalities in our society,” the doctors wrote.
The doctors highlighted the importance of masking in reducing COVID-19 infections, asking Moore to reconsider imposing mandates.
“The return of masking could help protect those with inequities and vulnerabilities, relieve the pressures on our hospitals, and most importantly protect the health of the people we serve,” they said.
Back in March, the now retiring Medical officer of Health for Chatham-Kent said masks are mainly a public service to protect others.
“Medical grade masks really are more a source of control than protection, they’re a little bit protective, but it’s not like wearing full personal protective equipment,” Colby says.
Colby added he is not particularly concerned about the cessation of masking.
“Because things like vaccination and physical distancing, which are no longer mandated in so many settings, are more important than that.”
He added that masks are mainly useful for source control.
“They stop you from disseminating what you’re carrying to others in your vicinity. They are a little bit protective, but not very protective. Unless you resort to a very sophisticated type of mask, a custom-fitted N95 mask, but I don’t believe that’s necessary for community settings.”
Colby says the main factor in contracting COVID-19 isn’t who is wearing a mask; it’s minimizing exposure time.
“We’ve never seen people catching COVID by patronizing stores, for example, because even if somebody is infectious, that is shopping there, the time you spend close to them is so minimal that you can’t get an infectious dose.”
According to Dr. Peter Juni, the scientific director of Ontario’s COVID-19 science advisory table, it appears hospitalizations have now peaked at 1,700. He added that a decrease would likely follow a decline in wastewater indicators of COVID in the coming weeks in hospital admissions.
“So whatever you’re doing in terms of your behaviour — with contacts, masking, etc. — keep doing that for a few more weeks,” he said. “But I think we’re on the right track now.”
Meanwhile, Ontario health officials report that 1,676 people are in hospital with COVID-19 As of May 5. The Ministry of Health also reported 32 deaths due to the virus, and 10 were long-term care residents.
There have been 410 COVID-related fatalities in the past month.
As of May 5 hospitalizations, 205 patients are in intensive care units, and 100 patients in ICUs are breathing with the help of ventilators. Sixty-five percent of the patients in ICU were hospitalized for COVID-related treatment.
The Ministry of Health says 43 percent of hospitalized patients were admitted directly for COVID-19-related treatment, while 57 percent were admitted for other reasons but tested positive for the virus.
Bird Bouchard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Ridgetown Independent News