GUELPH – The local medical officer of health is strongly recommending that people wear masks indoors and get up to date with their COVID-19 and flu vaccines in the weeks leading up to the holiday season.
With rumours circulating of the possible return of mandatory masking in Ontario, Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health (WDGPH) Medical Officer of Health Dr. Nicola Mercer is drawing the line at mandates.
Instead, she is hoping people will choose to do what’s necessary to keep themselves and their loved ones safe, healthy and out of hospital.
In a Nov. 10 interview with the Advertiser, Mercer said masks are the easiest way to curb the spread of respiratory illnesses that are circulating in the community.
The pandemic is not over, she said, and COVID-19 cases are on the rise again.
Flu season is upon us and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is also going around, primarily impacting children.
“Nobody wants to mandate anything,” Mercer said.
“I am concerned though, so I’m saying in the strongest way possible, you should wear a mask indoors in places where there are lots of people. It’s the wise decision.”
Mercer said influenza, which spikes every year in fall and winter, came early this year and is already impacting vulnerable populations.
“Little children – especially under two – are ending up in hospital. They can become quite ill,” Mercer said specifically of RSV.
It has become next to impossible to get an accurate count of COVID-19 cases in the region.
What is known is that hospital emergency departments are struggling to keep up with demand.
“If people go to emerg, they will find they are overwhelmed,” Mercer said.
“Surgeries are being cancelled. They might be assigned a bed that is not close to home. The (health care) system needs us all to stay healthy.”
While this region did great in getting first and second doses of the COVID-19 vaccine when they were first available, “we’re not seeing the uptake I’d like to see” on the boosters now, Mercer said.
“If you haven’t had a shot in six months, they are available,” she said, adding it is safe to get a booster and a flu shot at the same time.
They are widely available through doctor’s offices, public health clinics and many pharmacies, she said.
Mercer acknowledged people are suffering from pandemic fatigue and are tired of hearing the public health message.
“I think people don’t see how it impacts them anymore. And for the majority of people who get sick, they will stay out of hospital and still do fine,” she said.
“But you don’t know for sure, and you may give COVID to a child or a senior.
“And why not avoid the unpleasantness? Take a few minutes and get your shot.”
Mercer said public health has stopped counting how many doses people have had and is now looking at when they had their last shot.
The vaccine lasts about six months and takes two weeks to be fully effective. If you had it today, that would bring you to within a few weeks of Christmas.
If you have plans for the holidays, a COVID vaccine will help ensure you can carry out your plans.
“It’s about staying strong, well and healthy,” she said.
Mercer said public health offers special clinics for people who have a fear of needles if that’s what’s holding you back.
Misinformation continues to swirl around vaccines and their safety and effectiveness.
Mercer said people who want good information can start with the WDGPH website, wdgpublichealth.ca, where links to other credible organizations can also be found.
Mercer said misinformation and conspiracy theories will probably never go away and some people who are fearful of vaccines might never be convinced they are safe.
“Our job is to continue to support people and their choices, and to guide them to the best choices,” she said.
So get the COVID and flu vaccine, wear a mask in indoor public spaces, and wash your hands frequently.
“These are simple tools to stay healthy,” said Mercer.