By: Bird Bouchard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
While mask mandates are staying in place in Ontario for now, the mask mandate will likely be lifted in schools when it is removed for most public spaces.
Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Kieran Moore, said he anticipates the mask mandate will be lifted simultaneously across most sectors when it is safe to do so, rather than on a step-by-step basis.
Other Canadian provinces, such as New Brunswick, have announced it would lift its mask mandate for indoor public settings as of March 14, including schools. Moore said a review of the mask mandate in Ontario is already underway. He added that an announcement on its fate could be made in the coming weeks.
Currently, all students in Grade 1 to Grade 12 in Ontario are required to wear masks at school as part of a series of measures intended to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
If and when the mask mandate is rescinded in Ontario, residents in Chatham-Kent can expect the municipality to align with the measures taken. This means school-aged children could soon be maskless in indoor public settings.
While Dr. David Colby, Chatham-Kent’s Medical Officer of Health, holds the power to enforce stricter COVID-19 measures, he said he couldn’t imagine doing anything different than what the province announces.
“Yes, I do have that power. But unless there are extraordinary circumstances that are not foreseeable, we would be remaining in alignment with the province there,” said Colby. “For people that are more comfortable, that doesn’t stop them from wearing masks.”
According to Scott Johnson, Director of Education at St. Clair Catholic District School Board, the local school board has followed the advice of the local public health unit and Chief Medical Officer health since the beginning of the pandemic.
Meanwhile, while Ontario is set to continue its phased reopening on March 1, Moore noted mask requirements would remain in place for the time being. He added that he anticipated a review of the mask mandate in the second or third week of March. This will allow data to be analyzed after the province lifts capacity limits and the proof of vaccination requirement.
“If and when we transition, it would be from a mandate to mask to a recommendation to mask,” he said.
Moore said masking remains an important tool. He added when it’s no longer required in public policy, and it will continue to help reduce transmission and protect those recovering from illness, their close contacts and those who may be more vulnerable to severe COVID-19 infection.
“Some in our communities may even choose to continue wearing them regularly, and we need to be respectful of individual choices once masking is no longer required,” said Moore.
Meanwhile, as of February 24, the province reported 1,066 people hospitalized with COVID-19 and 41 more deaths linked to the virus.
According to the Ministry of Health, approximately 49 percent of those admitted to the hospital were seeking treatment for COVID-19 symptoms, while 51 percent were admitted for other reasons but have since tested positive for the virus.
Of the hospitalizations reported, 302 people are in intensive care units. Roughly 74 percent were admitted to intensive care specifically for the virus, while the rest were admitted for other reasons and tested positive.