After the harshest and longest lockdowns in Canada, Ontario is finally set to remove its indiscriminate mask mandate.
Announcing a massive hospital investment in Branford, with $30.2 billion to be invested over 10 years to renovate and expand hospitals across Ontario, Premier Doug Ford wants to “end hallway medicine.” At the same time, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore was providing a COVID-19 update.
Moore started his announcement by highlighting that “with continued improvements and trends, Ontario will remove the mandatory masking requirement for indoor settings on March 21 with the exception of select settings such as public transit, health care settings, long-term care homes and high-risk congregate care settings.”
He notes that “removing the mask mandate does not mean that the risk is gone. COVID-19 transmission is still occurring across the province and the mask can help protect you and others from becoming infected with COVID-19.”
Moore expects to see “cases and hospitalizations to increase slightly as we interact with one another,” but points to “natural immunity and high vaccination rates and antiviral therapies,” as tools that Ontario has, which he feels will help “successfully manage this impact.”
He recommends vulnerable individuals continue to mask and to be kind, considerate and respectful to those who choose to wear masks.
Moore explained that if a new variant emerges, Ontarians should be prepared to resume mask wearing, “Or potentially during the winter months when COVID and other respiratory viruses are likely to circulate again.”
Ontario's medical officer outlined a plan to revoke all directives and instructions with “a focus on moving away from emergency measures” by the end of April.
Quarantine and isolation guidelines are also being updated.
Household contacts will no longer need to isolate if they are 18-years or older and have received a booster or are 18-years and younger with two doses. Contacts should avoid high risk settings and individuals for 10 days as long as they are asymptomatic.
Symptomatic individuals are asked to isolate right away and get tested.
Also as of March 21, Ontario is removing the screening of students and staff in the education sector. Self-screening is still required on a good-faith basis. The education sector will see an elimination of cohorting and distancing requirements, in addition to making masks recommended instead of mandatory.
Ontario is providing 3.6 billion rapid antigen tests to school boards every two weeks to support symptomatic testing.
Dr. Moore ended his announcement by noting that this will be his last scheduled weekly COVID-19 update and acknowledges that Friday, March 11 is a national day of observance to honour those who have lost their lives due to COVID-19, over six million people globally.