Mask mandates could be extended for Ontario’s highest-risk settings.

Last week, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Kieran Moore, said provincial officials were actively discussing a possible extension of Ontario’s COVID-19 mask mandate for public transit settings, shelters, jails, long-term care homes and hospitals, which is currently in effect until April 27.

While speaking at a Scarborough healthcare announcement on April 14, Ontario Premier Doug Ford says he would support an extension for high-risk mask mandates, if it’s recommended by Dr. Moore.

“I wouldn’t have any problem at all with that. We want to protect the most vulnerable,” said Ford. “I’ll wait for Dr. Moore to give us the recommendation, like I have from day one. We have to take care of the most vulnerable.”

New modelling released Thursday by Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, which is now part of Public Health Ontario, says the Easter long weekend will have a significant impact on a recent plateau of COVID-19 cases.

However, a recent report from Public Health Ontario says due to the BA.2 variant’s increased transmissibility, severe cases of COVID-19 are expected to increase. Dr. Moore says he expects a recent trend of rising hospitalization counts to continue into May.

Public Health Ontario’s report says the sixth wave of COVID-19, now underway, could lead to in-person learning disruptions for students and a return of indoor mandatory mask mandates. Dr. Moore says this could happen with the emergence of a new variant, or by the winter months.

Dr. Peter Juni, head of the advisory table, has estimated that Ontario is seeing between 100,000 and 120,000 unconfirmed cases of COVID-19 each day, based on wastewater surveillance. But Premier Ford notes case rates in wastewater surveillance reports are now declining.

“Hospitals are strong right now,” adds Ford. “I want to give a shout-out to all healthcare workers. They’ve been fabulous. They’re game-changers. If we didn’t have the quality of healthcare staff [that we do] throughout this pandemic, people in this province would be in deep trouble.”

While Ford says hospitals are strong, Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table’s new modelling notes COVID-19 infections in healthcare workers are as high as in the last Omicron wave in late 2021, which will reduce Ontario’s ability to care for patients.

Ontario lifted its mandatory mask mandate for most indoor public settings on March 21. The mandate was in effect for 1 year, 7 months and 9 days, or a total of 586 days in the Northwestern Health Unit’s catchment area.

Dr. Moore says despite the end of mask mandates, they’re still a useful tool to protect yourself and others, and those who feel most comfortable wearing a mask and those who are considered the most at-risk should continue wearing masks as they see fit.

In a recent study of over 500 people, a cloth mask helped lower the odds of testing positive for COVID-19 by 56 per cent, a surgical mask reduced your risk by 66 per cent, while an N95 mask lowered your odds by 83 per cent.