‘Added benefit’: Simcoe-Muskoka’s top doctor won’t support colleagues’ call for mask mandate, Ontario Health Coalition
Is it time to reinstate stricter masking mandates?
Dr. Charles Gardner, the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unitdoes not see the need to impose new general rules on masks in indoor public places at this time.
“At this time, with the current downward trend, sewage monitoring indicating a decrease in COVID activity, and as the weather improves, allowing for more outdoor gatherings and fewer gatherings indoors, the added benefit of mandatory indoor masking in public spaces is small,” he said. Simcoe.com May 10.
Under Section 22 of the Health Protection and Promotion Act, local Medical Officers of Health can establish this type of restriction during a public health crisis.
But Gardner says the ability for any health unit to implement a mask mandate without direction or support from the Ontario government would be “very difficult.”
“Therefore, we are not currently pursuing a local mask mandate for public indoor spaces,” he said. “We see a lot of people continuing to mask up indoors and we continue to recommend people do this as it’s easy to do and provides extra protection.”
Gardner was responding to a recent letter from medical officers of Windsor-Essex, Peterborough and Niagara Region to Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Kieran Moore, who had called for a mandate to be reimposed in workplaces, schools, colleges, universities and essential service settings (grocery stores and pharmacies, for example).
The province recently extended its mask mandate for high-risk facilities like long-term care homes until June. And Moore and many health units have advised residents to wear masks indoors, although no specific orders have been issued.
Earlier this month, several legal and health experts, through the Ontario Health Coalition advocacy groupalso called on Ontario and the province’s 34 local health units to reinstate indoor masking requirements “in the interest of public health and safety.”
They cited record absence rates among school teachers and students, continued pressure on hospitals and ‘beleaguered’ healthcare staff, a ‘worrying’ rise in hospitalizations among elderly residents and the ‘huge’ number infections in children.
“We now know that COVID-19 is primarily an airborne disease, meaning the virus spreads from person to person in the air we breathe,” said Dr. Dick Zoutman, Professor at Queen’s University and past chair of Ontario SARS. Scientific Advisory Board, during the coalition’s virtual media conference. “Current variants of Omicron are incredibly contagious, making COVID-19 one of the most contagious viruses known. Simply wearing a mask is an inexpensive and extremely effective way to protect everyone from COVID-19. Indeed, if we all wore properly fitting masks in indoor public places, we could stop COVID-19 in its tracks.
On May 9, the Simcoe Muskoka Health Unit reported 227 new infections, two additional deaths, 29 active hospitalizations and 32 ongoing outbreaks. It was the first update to his stats since Friday.
Acute, intensive care and ventilator bed capacity in hospitals in the Simcoe-Muskoka region is currently listed at 93.3, 70.2 and 25.8 percent, respectively. Capacity figures include, but are not limited to, COVID-19 patients.