‘Incremental benefit’: Simcoe-Muskoka’s top doc won’t back mask mandate call from colleagues, Ontario Health Coalition
Posted: May 13, 2022
(May 11, 2022)
By: Chris Simon, The Star
Is it time to re-implement more stringent masking mandates?
Dr. Charles Gardner, the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit’s medical officer of health, doesn’t see a need to impose broad new mask rules in indoor public settings right now.
“At this time, with the current wave trending downwards, wastewater surveillance indicating decreasing COVID activity, and as weather improves, allowing for more outdoor gatherings and less indoor gatherings, the incremental benefit for mandated masking indoors in public spaces is low,” he told Simcoe.com May 10.
Under Section 22 of the Health Protection and Promotion Act, local medical officers of health can set this type of restriction during a public-health crisis.
But Gardner says the ability for any one health unit to implement a mask mandate without Ontario government direction or support would be “very challenging.”
“Therefore, we are currently not pursuing a local mask mandate for public indoor spaces,” he said. “We do see a lot of people continuing to mask indoors and we continue to recommend people to do that as it is easy to do and affords extra protection.”
Gardner was responding to a letter issued recently by medical officers of health in Windsor-Essex, Peterborough and Niagara Region to Ontario’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Kieran Moore, which had asked for a mandate to be reimposed in workplaces, schools, colleges, universities and essential service settings (grocery stores and pharmacies, for example).
The province did recently extend into June its mask mandate for high-risk settings like long-term-care homes. And Moore and many health units have advised residents to wear masks indoors, though no specific orders have been issued.
Earlier this month, several legal and health experts, through the Ontario Health Coalition advocacy group, also called for Ontario and all 34 local health units in the province to reinstate indoor masking requirements “in the interests of the public’s health and safety.”
They cited record-high absence rates among teachers and students at schools, continuous pressure on hospitals and “beleaguered” health-care staff, a “worrisome” increase in hospitalization among elderly residents and the “huge” number of infections among children.
“We now know that COVID-19 is dominantly an airborne-spread disease, meaning that the virus travels from person to person in the air we breathe,” said Dr. Dick Zoutman, a Queen’s University professor and the former chair of the Ontario SARS Scientific Advisory Committee, during the coalition’s virtual media conference. “The current variants of Omicron are incredibly infectious, making COVID-19 one the most infectious of viruses known. The simple act of wearing a mask is a cheap and extremely effective way to protect everyone from COVID-19. Indeed, if we all wore well-fitting masks while 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. This was the first update of its statistics since Friday.
Acute, intensive care and ventilator bed capacity at the Simcoe-Muskoka region’s hospitals are currently listed at 93.3, 70.2 and 25.8 per cent, respectively. Capacity numbers include, but are not limited to, COVID-19 patients.