Ontario’s COVID-19 mask mandate will end later this week for hospitals, health care settings and public transportation, but will continue in long-term care facilities and retirement homes.
All remaining mask requirements in the province were set to expire at 12 a.m. on Saturday after being expanded to select high-risk indoor facilities during the sixth wave of the virus in April. This includes all health care facilities, long-term care homes and transit systems, as well as shelter and collective care settings.
With hospitalizations and high vaccination rates declining in recent weeks, Kieran Moore, Ontario’s chief medical officer for health, said Wednesday that the remaining masking requirements will end as planned on Saturday, with the exception of long-term care and retirement Leaving homes to “provide an extra layer” of protection for the most vulnerable. Masking will be required indefinitely in these settings.
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The Ontario Long Term Care Association said there is currently an outbreak of active COVID-19 infection among 528 residents in 77 homes.
Masks are also recommended in high-risk mass living settings such as shelters and group homes. Guidance will be issued for the use of masks in hospitals in certain circumstances, but it will not be mandatory.
“Ontarians should continue to wear a mask if they feel it is right for them, are at high risk for serious illness, recovering from COVID-19, have symptoms of the virus or have close contact with someone with COVID-19 are,” Dr Moore said in the statement.
The Registered Nurses Association of Ontario (RNAO) and the Ontario Hospital Association (OHA) say removing the mandate could lead to increased disruption to the health care system.
Hospitals are currently facing staff shortages due to the spread of the virus, said RNAO President Morgan Hoffarth, who is concerned that removing the mask rule will only lead to further infections and staffing challenges.
“We are already in a critical staffing shortage and we cannot afford to lay off any additional people,” she said in an interview.
Although COVID-related hospitalizations and serious illnesses have declined in recent weeks, OHA President and Chief Executive Officer Anthony Dale said vulnerable populations are at increased risk of infection, and the mask mandates to spread the virus in hospital settings. can help prevent it.
With the requirement gone, Mr Dale said he expected hospitals to maintain their own masking policies, but argued that a province-led directive carried more of a burden and eased enforcement.
“Our hospitals continue to follow the precautionary principle, as they have done during the pandemic, and follow best practices in infection, prevention and control,” Mr Dale said in a statement.
The University Health Network will continue its masking policy, including five hospitals and health care centers in downtown Toronto. UHN also requires all visitors to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Toronto’s SickKids Hospital will also maintain its masking requirements because children under the age of five are not eligible for vaccination and many are immunocompromised.
On the transit front, Metrolinx and TTC said they would remove their mandates to suit the province, but would continue to strongly recommend the use of masks.
Anne Marie Aikins, a spokeswoman for Metrolinx, which operates Go Transit, said the service would continue to encourage the use of masks on the system. Front-line workers will still be required to wear masks, and the company’s staff vaccination policy remains in place.
He said in an interview, “It is one thing not to make something mandatory and it will not be made mandatory, so it will be their choice, but there is still a recommendation and an incentive for people to take precautions and one of them is to wear a mask.” could.” ,
COVID-19 hospitalizations in Ontario have declined since the peak of the sixth wave in April, and as of Wednesday, cases fell 27 percent from the previous week to 522. 78 people have been found positive in ICU, which is the lowest since last August. Wastewater data indicated a reduction in transmission across the province.
Despite the decline in cases, the new scientific director of Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table says the virus is still prevalent and that masks offer a minimally invasive way of protecting against infection.
Dr. Fahad Razak said there is no official position on mask mandates in the advisory table, but in his view expanding them could be a safeguard to prevent further shortages.
“It is a combination of patients who are still coming in with health care workers getting sick and fatigue and burnout from two and a half years of the pandemic. So we are still in a vulnerable position,” he said in an interview.
Mask requirements remain in place in health care facilities in several Canadian provinces, including Quebec, Manitoba and Alberta.
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