It’s been almost a month since Ontario removed its mask mandate, which was needed to enter all indoor public settings, and had been in place since August 12, 2020, in our health region.

We spoke with a few Kenora residents about whether they have continued to wear a mask or not.

One elderly woman that was entering a grocery store, said she has continued to wear a mask, though the mandate has been lifted.

“I’m going based on what I’ve seen in the past and until someone tells me it’s gone [COVID-19] or it’s 90 plus per cent gone then I will continue to wear a mask for my own comfort. I’m going to take care of myself,” she said.

She noted she doesn’t have a problem with other people around not masking up but wants to protect herself.

Another resident said, he wears a mask in all indoor public settings that he enters.

“You don’t know what’s going on as far as COVID if you read the stuff that’s going on at the hospital with all the issues you want to be as safe as you possibly can and wearing a mask makes a big difference,” he said.

Businesses still have the right to enforce mandatory masking if they choose to, in the hopes of protecting their staff and visitors, and masks will remain in high-risk settings like hospitals and long-term care homes until April 27.

In recent weeks, COVID-19 has reared its ugly head once again, with it driving up hospitalizations, per cent positivity rates, and an upward trend in wastewater surveillance, predominantly driven by the BA.2 variant.

As of April 11, Ontario reported 1,090 hospitalizations with 184 in Intensive Care Units, with 2,401 lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19. Hospitalizations have seen a 27 per cent week-to-week increase in Ontario.

Last week, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Kieran Moore, said a recent trend of rising hospitalizations driven by the new ‘stealth’ BA.2 subvariant of Omicron, a more-transmissible variant of the original strain of COVID-19, is likely to continue into May.

Though Ontario has continued to say the province is prepared for the sixth wave of COVID-19,  a new report published by Public Health Ontario, suggests it could have a bigger impact than anticipated.

The report says that the severity of the current wave could force in-person learning disruptions, and Ontario should be prepared to re-introduce mandatory mandates in indoor and high-risk settings if necessary.

Dr. Moore at that media briefing last week said, that residents should be prepared for the possibility of the mask mandate coming back.

“While we will not be reinstating a broad mask mandate at this time, we should all be prepared that we may need to resume a requirement for mask-wearing in indoor public spaces if a new variant of concern emerges, a threat to our healthcare system, or potentially during the winter months when COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses are likely to circulate again,” explains Dr. Moore.

Locally, the concern of increased risk due to the severity of the sixth wave has been seen.

“I think COVID is around to stay, and I don’t think the government shouldn’t have gotten rid of the masks. I believe the reason they did it is economic reasons to get the economy going, not the health of the people,” said a Kenora resident.

In terms of masks coming back sooner, rather than later, he said he could see them coming back in the next month if the COVID situation doesn’t improve.

A couple heading into a grocery store on Tuesday said they can see us wearing masks for quite a while.

“I could see them [masks] coming back, it’s gone through the schools again. You go into Safeway; you can tell that there’s something that is affecting them that they can’t have all the checkouts open. Restaurants have had to cut back on the number of hours they’re open. I can see masks coming and I fully approve it,” they said.

Medical Officer of Health with the Northwestern Health Unit, Dr. Kit Young Hoon, recommends that residents continue to perform individual risk assessments to determine whether you should wear a mask and practice other COVID-19 prevention measures.

To help fight back against the new wave of COVID-19, Ontario has announced it is re-expanding PCR testing eligibility and eligibility for free-of-charge COVID-19 anti-viral treatments to high-risk individuals.