The Ottawa Hospital lifts most mask requirements, but some say it’s too soon
Posted: June 13, 2023
(June 12 2023)
By: Natalia Goodwin, CBC News Ottawa
If you visit any of The Ottawa Hospital’s locations today, you may notice a big change: fewer people wearing masks.
The hospital has announced that as of June 12, masking will be optional in public spaces such as hallways, cafeterias, and meeting rooms, as well as in clinical areas where direct patient care is not provided.
They will still be required during direct patient care and in areas such as patient rooms, outbreak units and the emergency department.
The hospital says the move is a “direct result” of low transmission rates for COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses, few hospitalizations, and “high vaccination rates and hybrid immunity.”
It also reflects similar decisions at other regional hospitals, with the Montfort, and Queensway Carleton and The Royal, Ottawa’s mental health centre all making similar changes in May.
Some still worry about the most vulnerable in hospital settings.
“There’s nothing wrong with The Ottawa Hospital being a leader for a change and not a follower,” said Ed Cashman with the Ottawa Health Coalition, which advocates for improvements to the public health-care system.
“They could be a leader by protecting their patients and their workers and visitors for just a little while longer, until the situation is better for everyone.”
Policies hard to change back, says doctor
COVID-19 numbers have been low and steady recently, although there have still been deaths: about 80 in Ottawa this year and more than 200 in the wider region.
The hospital said the policy will be adjusted should the circumstances change.
One epidemiologist and cardiologist thinks that might be hard to do.
“If we start to de-emphasizing the importance of masks, as some people tend to do, is it going to be harder to reinstate policies in the fall, when I think some of us are worried we could see an uptick not just of COVID but also influenza and RSV?” said Dr. Christopher Labos.
“Policies have to be universal to be easy to implement. That’s just unfortunately how human nature tends to work.”
Labos said it’s become clear during the pandemic that masking works to prevent airborne diseases from spreading, given that influenza cases all but disappeared when mandates were in place.
He said there are other preventative measures to look at such as air filters and improving ventilation in buildings, though those come at a higher cost.
Worries about staff
The potential for another surge of respiratory diseases this fall and winter worries Rachel Muir, the bargaining unit president at The Ottawa Hospital for the Ontario Nurses’ Association.
“We should be protecting the health-care providers as well because they are exposed to these things far more frequently than anybody else in our community,” Muir said.
“If you’ve got these surges on an already stressed workforce and already reduced workforce — and you’re having to stay at home because you’re ill — then you are going to put an additional strain onto an already strained situation.”
The hospital says anyone who feels unwell should still mask up and masks will be widely available at their campuses for anyone who still wants to wear one.