Ontario's top doctor 'strongly' recommends masking indoors
Ontario Chief Medical Officer Dr. Kieran Moore attended a press briefing at the Queens Park Legislature, in Toronto, on Monday, November 14, 2022, first time since August 2022.
Ontario's chief medical officer of health is "strongly recommending" that Ontarians wear masks in all indoor public settings, including in schools and in childcare settings, but stopped short of recommending a return to a mask mandate in the province.
At the news conference on Monday, Dr. Kieran Moore said the province's health system is facing "extraordinary pressures" with the ongoing circulation of COVID-19, the earlier than normal rise in respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), as well as influenza.
"What we are facing is a triple threat that requires our collective action and action to protect the most vulnerable in our communities, the very young, the very old and those with underlying medical issues and to ensure that our health-care system remains able to care for Ontarians when they need it," Moore said.
Moore indicated that Ontarians need to get back to using all the layers of protection that have proven to work over the course of the pandemic.
"We should all be screening daily for signs of illness and stay home when you are sick," he said.
"I'm asking Ontarians, especially children six months of age and older, pregnant individuals, families and caregivers with young children, health-care workers and elderly, and those with underlying health conditions to get your flu shot as soon as possible, [to] protect themselves and those around them," Moore added.
He is also calling on Ontarians to get their flu shots and take other precautions, such as screening for respiratory symptoms before attending work or school and practicing good hand hygiene.
He said he has been told that at the Hospital for Sick Children, about half of the kids who are currently on ventilators in the intensive care unit have RSV while the other half have Influenza.
“This isn't COVID that's affecting our children, although it obviously can. It's RSV and Influenza combined that are driving our children to have to be admitted to hospitals and we do have the tools at our disposal that can help protect our children and help protect our families,” he said. “My concern is that this is spreading in families and in social situations outside of the large public venues and it really comes down to families, grandparents, parents and siblings protecting the most vulnerable and youngest in our communities.”
When asked about possibly introducing a mask mandate for schools he said that “we are discussing that and reviewing that as a potential (measure)”
As Canada's flu season has officially started earlier than usual, pediatric hospitals across Ontario have been dealing with an unprecedented surge of sick children in recent weeks.
Moore said children aged two to five should only wear a mask with supervision if they can safely tolerate masking, and can put it on and take it off.
Moore has previously said this fall and winter would see a resurgence of respiratory illnesses and that he would recommend masking in certain indoor settings if hospitals began cancelling surgeries to deal with a surge of patients.
"The difficult and complex fall that was predicted has materialized," Moore said Monday.
"COVID-19, influenza and RSV — all three are actively circulating across Ontario in all of our communities … contributing to the pressures on our pediatric health-care system." Ontario has had roughly 10 percent of tests recently coming back positive for this year's dominant strain of influenza A.
Alberta started experiencing a spike in influenza A cases at the end of October. Experts are warning that hospitals across CAnada are already overloaded with cases of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), flu, COVID-19 and other infections.
Given these concernss, medical officials have been increasingly calling for the public to mask up after children's hospitals across the province became overwhelmed with young patients in emergency departments, pediatric wards and intensive care units.
On Friday the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto announced it would be ramping down surgeries to redeploy staff to those areas.
Dr. Chris Simpson, executive vice-president, medical, at Ontario Health, also spoke at Monday's news conference. He said that "unusually high numbers of children are coming into hospital emergency departments" for one or more viral illnesses, and the total number of these children that require admission is "uncommonly high."
Simpson said while Ontario hospitals have been preparing for "this triple threat," they are seeing high numbers of seriously ill children and seeing them earlier in the season than had been expected.
"Although this current situation is unlike anything we've seen in the pediatric population in recent memory, we have strong systems and structures that have been put in place during the pandemic for our adult community," Simpson said.
Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist at University Health Network in Toronto, says given what's been happening in the province, a recommendation to mask is not enough.
"I think it's one step, but there's other steps to take," Bogoch told CBC News.
"If you're not going to mandate masks, there are multiple steps to take to improve mask adherence in the community in the absence of this mandate."
He said the province should look at "lowering barriers to masks," by making them ubiquitous, putting them at the front of every mall and in every sports facility in schools "so that you actually have an opportunity to put them on."
Meanwhile, speaking at a news conference on Sunday, an unrelated issue, Premier Doug Ford urged members of the public to get their flu shots and be up to date on the COVID-19 vaccinations.
"Wear a mask every time possible," Ford said.
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young