The end of masking in public settings will soon be upon us.
Chief Medical Officer Dr. Kieran Moore announced last week that as of March 21, Ontarians would no longer be required to wear a mask indoors in most public settings.
However, this will not apply to high-risk settings such as hospitals, congregate care settings, long-term care, as well as public transit.
“Removing the mask mandate does not mean the risk is gone,” said Moore.
He added the province is moving from a mandate to a choice to wear a mask. Moore added masks can still help limit virus transmission and are still encouraged in some situations. “We are moving from a mandate to a choice.”
Premier Doug Ford said he believes the time is right based on recommendations from Dr. Moore.
“It’s going to be up to the people of Ontario. If you want to keep your mask on, keep it on. If you want to take it off, take it off,” said Ford. “We have to move forward from this, people are exhausted, and the poor kids in those classrooms too. We have to move on.”
Dr. David Colby Chatham-Kent’s Medical Officer of Health also supported the decision.
“Chatham-Kent will be following the provincial lead on this and not taking its own course,” he said.
While he supports the decision to move forward, Colby admitted he wishes there were more time to examine further the “previous dispensing of restrictions,” such as gathering limits.
“That being said, I’m not particularly concerned about the cessation of masking,” he added, “because things like vaccination and physical distancing, which are no longer mandated in so many settings, are more important than that.”
Colby said he still expects many people and organizations will continue to use precautions as they see fit.
CKHA President and CEO Lori Marshall anticipates hospitals across the province will be working together to develop consistent policies. She emphasized that there is no change at either CKHA site regarding mandatory masks at this stage.
Marshall said it’s too early to identify if mandatory masking at the hospitals in Chatham-Kent will change at the end of April.
“Please make sure that if you’re coming to visit at the hospital that you understand that masking is still required at this stage,” said Marshall.
Several notable changes are also coming to schools across the municipality.
Masks will be optional for schools and school buses beginning March 21.
Lambton-Kent District School Board Education Director John Howitt said cohorting would also be gone after the March Break along with physical distancing. He added it’s completely understandable and acceptable if people still want to wear masks in the classroom and on buses.
“We will fully recognize there will be students and staff whose comfort level will have them continuing to wear masks, and they are perfectly welcome to do so,” said Howitt.
He clarified there are a couple of exceptions that require mandatory masking.
He said those who are exposed to COVID-19 and those returning from international travel must wear masks and follow all of the provincial and federal COVID-19 rules.
St. Clair Catholic District School Board Education Director Scott Johnson echoed Howitt. He said most would be uncomfortable not wearing masks when they return from March Break, and they must not be judged for doing so if that’s their preference.
Johnson also said masks will be provided at schools for students and staff wanting them until the end of the year.
Dr. Colby said it is also important to clarify that being fully vaccinated means getting three shots, not just two. He added that local teens who missed their routine Grade 7 immunizations are getting extra help from Chatham-Kent Public Health.
The health unit is launching special clinics to provide the Meningococcal, Hepatitis B and Human Papillomavirus shots. The clinics start on March 10 and will continue throughout the month.
Colby said he would like to see more people vaccinated across the spectrum.
“It is what it is. There’s been ample opportunity for people to get vaccinated in Chatham-Kent,” he said.
Meanwhile, there were 2,125 new cases of the virus in Ontario reported on March 10.
A total of 742 people were hospitalized, with 46 percent admitted for COVID-19 and 54 percent admitted for other reasons but testing positive.
There were 244 people in intensive care, with 79 percent admitted for COVID-19 and 21 percent admitted for other reasons but testing positive.