Toronto's medical officer of health has been asked to explore "urgently" the idea of bringing back mask mandates, beginning in schools, as local hospitals deal with rising numbers of children suffering from respiratory illness.
The Toronto Board of Health decided to make the request to Dr. Eileen de Villa on Tuesday during its meeting.
Board members, in a five to one vote, passed the following motion: "To reduce the spread of respiratory viruses and protect the capacity of pediatric health care services, the Board of Health requests that the Medical Officer of Health urgently explore all avenues toward re-issuing mask mandates, starting with schools."
Kate Mulligan, a public member of the board of the health, moved the motion.
Mulligan, an assistant professor of the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto, said she is a parent of three young children and told the board that had her own "terrifying" moment when she had to rush one of them into the resuscitation room of a hospital emergency department when the child had trouble breathing.
"I shudder to think if that resource hadn't been available," she said.
In an interview later on Tuesday, Mulligan said hospitals are struggling as large numbers of children go to emergency departments with such illnesses as respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).
"We've been hearing so much in the news about children experiencing respiratory viruses, COVID, RSV, flu and flooding emergency rooms and we're really seeing pediatric health care taxed at the moment and strained at capacity," she said.
In a statement on Tuesday, Toronto Public Health said de Villa was not available for comment but it said COVID-19 levels are slowly increasing in the city.
"At this point in time the public is encouraged to use layers of protection. They should go out and get that bivalent booster vaccine and stay up-to-date with these vaccinations, mask up if they are going into a crowded setting, and stay home if they are sick," the statement reads.
Speaking in Vancouver, Health Minister Sylvia Jones said Toronto is one of 34 public health units from which the province will receive feedback, however Ontario will continue to rely on the expertise of the Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Kieran Moore.
TPH said it will seek guidance from the Ontario government if Toronto sees a "sharp increase" in the number of COVID-19 cases.
"This COVID environment is still new, and something we've never seen before. The need for strict measures would depend on what we are seeing at that time," the statement reads.