The Ontario government has extended its high-risk mask mandate until June 11.

Ontario’s been mask-free in most public settings since March 21 and had plans to end mask requirements in shelters, long-term care homes, retirement homes, public transit, healthcare settings and other congregate settings like jails by April 27.

But on April 22, Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Kieran Moore, announced that Ontario will maintain existing masking requirements until June 11, noting the province will continue to monitor key COVID-19 indicators across Ontario.

“To protect our progress in managing this latest wave, I am maintaining masking requirements in specific public settings where individuals who are, or may be, at increased risk of severe outcomes, are in close contact for extended periods of time,” said Dr. Moore.

“Continuing to follow masking requirements and keeping up to date with COVID-19 vaccinations are the best ways we can prevent transmission and protect our friends, families, and our communities.”

Locally, Medical Officer of Health with the Northwestern Health Unit, Dr. Kit Young Hoon, says COVID-19 case counts are increasing in the region, but hospitalization rates are remaining stable. Public Health Ontario confirmed the province had entered the sixth wave of the pandemic earlier this month.

With the sixth wave of COVID-19, driven by the BA.2 subvariant of Omicron, continues to spread, Ontario is working to introduce a new tool in the fight against the virus. Ontario is now rolling out AstraZeneca’s Evusheld, a COVID-19 prevention drug.

Studies have shown that Evusheld treatments help reduce the risk of symptomatic COVID-19 infection by about 83 per cent in healthy adults. Health Canada approved the use of the drug federally earlier this month.

Evusheld will be prescribed to those who are immunocompromised and unlikely to mount an adequate immune response to a COVID-19 vaccination, or for whom COVID-19 vaccination is not recommended. It’s administered in two doses and is effective for roughly six months.

People considered eligible include:

- Solid organ transplant recipients,
- Stem cell transplant recipients,
- CAR-T therapy recipients,
- Other hematologic cancer patients undergoing treatment,

Evusheld is approved for use in adults and children over the age of 12 and over the weight of 40 kg, who are not currently infected with COVID-19 and have not had recent known contact with someone infected with COVID-19.

Patients are asked to talk to their healthcare provider to determine if Evusheld is appropriate for them, and Health Canada notes the drug is not a substitute for vaccination – as vaccines remain the strongest tool in preventing serious illness from COVID-19.

Eligible individuals are now able to book their fourth COVID-19 vaccine dose appointment through the Northwestern Health Unitparticipating pharmacies and participating primary care settings.

Canada’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Theresa Tam, says that preliminary data shows that a fourth dose, or a second booster dose, of the vaccine can offer additional protection against infection, severe illness, hospitalization and death.