TORONTO – As Ontario moves towards lifting mask mandates in public settings, the province’s top doctor says masking in schools will also be eliminated.
In a Feb. 24 update on the pandemic, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore confirmed masking requirements will remain in place for the time being, but noted the province is reviewing the matter and hopes to provide an update in the coming weeks.
“Masking does remain and important tool in our toolbox and even when it’s no longer required in public settings it will continue to be an effective tool for reducing transmission and protecting those recovering from illness, their close contacts and those who may be more vulnerable to severe COVID-19 infection,” Moore stated.
“Some people in our communities may also choose to continue wearing them regularly and we need to be respectful of individual choices once masking is no longer required.”
The province has been under a mandate requiring face coverings in public settings since July of 2020.
It’s one of several public health measures introduced by the province since the onset of the pandemic to help slow the spread of COVID-19.
Given the positive trends in public health indicators and the high vaccination rate of the province, Moore said the province is actively reviewing all directives and instructions that were temporarily in place in response to the pandemic.
“The eventual lifting of these directives and instructions reflects a move toward regular operations that will continue to ensure staff, students, clients, residents and patients are protected,” he said.
Moore added, “We will be working with school boards, with parents, with the ministries and make a decision together.
“But we do anticipate if we remove it in the public sector, we would do it simultaneously for the schools.
“That would seem to align, as the risk decreases, to do them together.”
He noted high-risk settings such as public transit, hospitals and long-term care would maintain a masking policy beyond when the province repeals it for general indoor settings in Ontario.
“The highest risk settings, I think we’ve learned, the masks have benefit, they reduce the risk of spread of multiple different pathogens, not just COVID, and have provided a safety net that is necessary in those high-risk settings to so many vulnerable patients and populations,” Moore said.
“We’re trying to learn best practices globally and provincially and as the risk decreases in Ontario, make recommendations to government with that in mind.”
He added while case rates and capacity in the health care system is stabilizing, the risk remains.
“So please continue to wear your mask, wash your hands and come forward to get your first, second, third or fourth doses of the vaccine because it’s not gone yet,” he urged.
Last October the province announced plans to lift proof of vaccination requirements in most settings by February and remove its mask mandate by April.
Those plans were delayed by the Omicron variant and a massive spike in cases across the province in December and January.