Provincial Liberals ask Ford government to mandate masks in schools in Mississauga, Brampton, Hamilton and rest of Ontario
A day after Ontario’s chief medical officer of health strongly recommended that all residents wear face masks indoors (including in their own homes if feeling unwell and living with children or other vulnerable people), the Ontario Liberals are calling on the Ford government to mandate masks inside schools and other public indoor settings.
Today (Nov. 15), the provincial Liberals called on Premier Doug Ford and Health Minister Sylvia Jones to present “a real plan” to keep children safe from respiratory viruses such as respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), flu, and COVID-19 by mandating universal masking in schools and on public transportation.
The party also asked the government to launch a “robust public health campaign” to increase flu and COVID vaccination rates and keep Ontarians informed on what’s happening with the healthcare system.
“In the first year of this pandemic, the Ontario government provided the public with daily updates on how we could stay safe and do our part to flatten the curve,” said John Fraser, MPP for Ottawa South and Interim Leader of the Ontario Liberal Party, in a statement.
“But now, when our emergency rooms are closing and our children are unable to get the care they need, Doug Ford and Sylvia Jones are silent.”
Yesterday, Dr. Kieran Moore, the province’s top doctor, stopped short of recommending a return to mandatory masking, instead encouraging residents to mask up when indoors to protect children who are being disproportionately affected by circulating RSV and flu strains.
Moore said it’s children five years old and under who are at the biggest risk. He recommended masking indoors, staying up to date on vaccinations and ensuring hands and surfaces are cleaned regularly.
“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 Ontarians — the very young and the very old,” Moore said during a press conference.
“It is our youngest children, those under five, who are especially vulnerable to severe outcomes from RSV, COVID and influenza and we need to ensure that we take all the necessary steps to keep them safe.”
While Moore did not rule out recommending a mask mandate in the future–especially as hospitals face increased pressure from multiple respiratory viruses–he indicated that any such mandate would likely be “the furthest we’d have to go.”
At the press conference, Moore said that masking in indoor settings such as malls would help reduce community spread but added that a lot of spread happens in private residences where mandates haven’t helped in the past. He suggested people wear a mask at home if they have symptoms.
“We really need to focus where we can protect our children who are the ones, under five, getting admitted to hospitals as we speak,” he said.
While some doctors spoke out against Moore’s recommendation, saying it simply wouldn’t go far enough to prevent infections and preserve hospital capacity, others–who are supportive of voluntary masking–said the province’s top doctor has access to data and information that the public is not privy to.
“Dr. Moore has been incredibly balanced throughout the pandemic,” said Dr. David Jacobs, a radiologist at Humber River Hospital and president of the Ontario Association of Radiologists, on Twitter.
“He has access to data the public does not and is advised by our best epidemiologists and infectious disease doctors. Please respect his decision.”
Dr. Andrew Morris, a Toronto-based infectious diseases specialist, recently took to Twitter to explain why mandates might not work as well as some would hope.
Morris also told the National Post that there are “costs” to wearing masks, such as increased waste, communication challenges (masks can make it harder to hear and be heard) and people simply not liking them.
Others argue that mandates are necessary to slow the spread of respiratory viruses that are severely impacting the province’s already over-stretched hospitals.
“Doug Ford and Sylvia Jones need to take proactive steps to prevent this crisis from getting worse,” said Dr. Adil Shamji, MPP for Don Valley East and Ontario Liberal Health critic, in a statement.
“It’s not enough to focus exclusively on emergency departments and ICUs – they need to take prompt action to reduce the demand on our healthcare system through universal masking in schools and on public transportation, and promoting vaccination.”
While COVID-19 is still circulating, RSV and influenza cases are filling Ontario hospitals right now. Last week, Trillium Health Partners, which operates both of Mississauga’s hospitals, confirmed children who require inpatient care at Mississauga Hospital are being sent to Credit Valley Hospital due to staffing challenges.
Data released last week revealed pediatric intensive care units across the province are operating over capacity, with the number of children receiving care exceeding the number of available beds across the province. Critical Care Services Ontario’s daily census showed there were 122 children in pediatric ICUs, up from 111 the day before.
While children, most of whom were not exposed to common viruses such as RSV and influenza during rolling lockdowns, are entering hospitals in larger than usual numbers, the province’s healthcare system was already under strain during the warmer months.
In August, Jones came under fire for staying silent despite multiple ER closures across Ontario.
The closures, which made headlines, largely stemmed from a persistent shortage of staff–especially nurses. A StatsCan report from June found that 86 per cent of nurses felt increased stress at work, with 76 per cent feeling overburdened with work duties and 55 per cent doing work they normally would not.
Over the last two years of the pandemic, vacant roles in Ontario hospitals have grown more than 90 per cent.
In the summer, Jones told The Canadian Press the government is examining ways to expedite certification for foreign nurses to come work in Ontario as quickly as possible to fill staffing gaps.
Earlier today, Jones reiterated that it’s a personal choice to wear a mask after Ford was called out for not wearing one in the legislature despite Moore’s recommendation.
With files from Liam McConnell, Karen Longwell and The Canadian Pressinsauga's Editorial Standards and Policies advertising