GUELPH – As most COVID-19 restrictions and measures have been lifted across the province, Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health (WDGPH) associate medical officer of health Dr. Matthew Tenenbaum says “we need to transition our approach to COVID-19.”
“A lot has changed in the past number of weeks,” Tenenbaum told Upper Grand District School Board (UGDSB) trustees on March 22.
“As a system, we are now in a place where our approach to COVID-19 is transitioning.”
He continued, “We are now transitioning away from an emergency response mentality to one that is now focused on long-term sustainable measures that will reduce the burden of COVID-19 in our community overall and over long periods of time.”
Tenenbaum stressed, however, that by no means is the pandemic over – the new approach recognizes that COVID-19 is here to stay.
Masking still recommended
With the provincial mandate on masking now lifted, Tenenbaum said while WDGPH is no longer enforcing masks, they are still highly recommended and encouraged.
“We are now really focused on promoting masking, trying to make sure people understand why it’s important and why it is recommended by us in public health and the difference it has made in multiple different settings, multiple different sectors and scenarios across our community,” he explained.
“We really do want people to keep masking as much as possible and in as many settings as makes sense and that’s why we’re continuing to recommend it very strongly.”
Trustee Mike Foley asked that WDGPH reimplement the local mask mandate, taking into consideration the board’s younger students that aren’t yet eligible to be vaccinated.
“I see that as a huge stumbling block to greater infection, greater community spread,” Foley said.
Tenenbaum said as a father of a child under five, he too is waiting for the opportunity to have a vaccine to offer the younger age group, noting it’s a concern for himself and his public health colleagues.
He added WDGPH wants people to be masking as much as possible given COVID is still here and can still pose a risk to those in the community that are not vaccinated or are more vulnerable to the impacts of the virus.
“We certainly support masking,” he explained. “Recognizing that it is one layer among many, it is still one that we support.
“The province has made its decision on what measures are recommended in schools … and what measures are mandatory in schools … and that’s the context which we’re working in now.”
Foley asked if Medical Officer of Health Dr. Nicola Mercer could issue a mask mandate under Section 22 of the province’s Health Protection and Promotion Act, which gives a medical officer of health authority under certain circumstances to issue an order to deal with a communicable disease.
Tenenbaum emphasized Section 22 is intended for local communicable disease issues, noting, “unfortunately, it’s not really a tool that we have in our tool belt to countermand a decision that was made … by the province.”
With regards to masking in schools, he noted the province is aware of the data and has made the decision based on several factors.
“That’s based on the same data that we have WDGPH,” Tenenbaum explained.
“There isn’t really anything about our local situation that is meaningfully different than the overall provincial scenario and that’s really why a local order wouldn’t make sense in this context.”