The Ontario government says children under five are at serious risk as the province faces a ‘triple-threat’ of respiratory illnesses this winter, and a return of masking could be on the horizon.

Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Kieran Moore, held a press conference on Monday to warn the province that a high number of children under the age of five are being admitted into emergency rooms and intensive care units due to COVID-19, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

Moore says while a surge was expected, it’s hit earlier and harder than the province anticipated – and it’s forced hospitals to reallocate staff and resources, including cancelling scheduled surgeries, to treat pediatric patients dealing with severe respiratory illnesses.

And with a peak in hospitalizations expected in early to mid-December, Moore strongly recommends the use of masks in all indoor public settings as he says everyone needs to help protect our youth, stressing that a mild cold for us could become a severe infection for a child.

“In response to the worsening trends and existing challenges for our healthcare system, I’m strongly recommending that all Ontarians – not just those at high risk – wear a mask in indoor public settings, especially around our most vulnerable – the very young and the very old,” says Moore.

“Our hospital system needs us to protect our children more and more. It’s not just COVID-19 anymore. It’s not just masking, it’s the layers of protection. Everyone around them, I’m urging them to protect our most vulnerable by adhering to all the layers of protection,” Moore adds.

Moore is asking parents to teach children under the age of five, who at this point haven’t been mandated to wear a mask before, to properly put on, take off and wear a mask if possible – especially in school and childcare settings.

Dr. Moore adds that if your child is sick, seek care through your primary physician if possible, call Health Connect Ontario for more help, and if concerned, you should bring your child to the emergency room.

Overall, Ontario says their positivity test rate for influenza sits at 14.5 per cent and has been increasing. RSV sits at 6.4 per cent, but without a vaccine against it, rates have been rising. While COVID-19 rates have decreased in Ontario, they still sit at about 14.2 per cent as of November 14.

To help bring those rates down, Moore is also recommending once again that everyone uses daily screening measures, stay home if they’re sick, use proper hand hygiene and stay up to date with their COVID-19 and influenza vaccinations.