Ontario should reinstate a provincewide indoor masking requirement, local public health officials, including Windsor’s top doctor, urge in a letter to provincial health authorities.
Masks are still needed in schools, workplaces and essential services like grocery stores, said Dr. Shanker Nesathurai, acting medical officer of health for Windsor and Essex County.
Along with officers of health for the Niagara and Peterborough regions, Nesathurai said in a letter Wednesday to Dr. Kieran Moore, the province’s chief medical officer, that mask requirements would help ease the burden of COVID-19 infection rates and help protect the province’s most vulnerable people.
“Like you, we had hoped that as masking and other protections ceased to be requirements, that we would be able to get through this wave without much suffering or long-term disruption,” the doctors wrote. “Unfortunately, this does not seem to have played out as we had hoped.
“The return of masking could help protect those with inequities and vulnerabilities, relieve the pressures on our hospitals and, most importantly, protect the health of the people we serve.”
Local health officials have the power to institute public health measures that could include masks, but Nesathurai said such measures are more effective when implemented provincewide.
“I think any policy of this nature really requires concerted provincial action,” Nesathurai told reporters Thursday. “I don’t think it would be as effective if it happened at a local level — perhaps at a regional level, but not at a local level or individual health district level.”
Last week, Moore renewed mask requirements in specific high-risk settings like retirement and long-term care homes. Mask requirements have been lifted in most other settings across the province since March 21.
Nesathurai said living with COVID-19 means re-upping public health measures as needed.
“Part of learning to live with (COVID-19) is to identify strategies that will help mitigate the burden of disease, recognizing that it’s likely going to have increasing levels of activity and decreasing levels of activity,” he said.
A weekly COVID-19 data summary for the region indicates stable or decreasing virus activity in the area, Nesathurai said, but residents should remain cautious.
This is not the first time Nesathurai has advocated in favour of required masking — in recent weeks he called for the measure amid a spring surge of cases in the province.
Nesathurai said he and other medical officers of health have spoken with the province about masking before.
“It’s probably the most consequential public health event of my lifetime,” Nesathurai said. “It’s incumbent on us as public health professionals to share our perspective and share our recommendations with our provincial colleagues.”
Five more people have died of COVID-19 in the community since Tuesday, the health unit reported Thursday, for a total of 618 local deaths during the pandemic to date. One of those deaths was reported Wednesday. On Thursday, the health unit said deaths included two men in their 60s, a woman in her 70s and a woman in her 80s, all from the community. A woman in her 90s also died in congregate care.
There were 54 new high-risk COVID-19 cases reported in Windsor and Essex County on Wednesday, followed by another 80 cases on Thursday, bringing the total number of local active cases to 216. There are 44 people in hospital with COVIC-19, including three people in intensive care, and 27 outbreaks, including 19 in long-term care or retirement homes.