Region’s top doc on mask mandate: ‘We shouldn’t actually be in a rush to remove it’

Dr. Charles Gardner says transmission is still high

As Ontario eases more public health measures, Simcoe Muskoka’s medical officer of health says the province shouldn’t be in a rush to remove the mask mandate.

During a Wednesday media briefing, Dr. Charles Gardner, medical officer of health for the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDHU), said he thinks masks still serve a purpose.

“To me, mask use is important because it is relatively easy to do without a cost to businesses and reduces the risk significantly for transmission, and we still have quite high transmission,” said Gardner. 

“It’s come down a great deal, but it’s still quite high. So, for something that is safe and easy to do, I would be advocating that it be continued for a considerable time to come. We’ll see what decision is actually made by the province, but I believe we shouldn’t actually be in a rush to remove it.”

At a news conference on Monday, Premier Doug Ford said changes to the masking policy are not “far away.” Ford mentioned the possible change could occur in a few weeks, or after March Break.

The premier said he will continue to listen to the advice of the province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Kieran Moore, and caution will still be taken. With Ford saying, “[t]his isn’t going to be the Wild West.”

Trends in the region are continuing in the positive, as the medical officer noted Simcoe Muskoka is below 100 cases per 100,000 population per week.

The medical officer said the numbers are considerably lower than what it was at the height of the fifth wave.

The number of virus-related hospitalizations in Simcoe Muskoka continues to decrease as well. The SMDHU reported 27 people in hospital and five in the ICU, compared to 43 hospitalizations two weeks ago, and 12 ICU patients the week before. 

Gardner said there were 29 deaths over the past two weeks – 18 males and 11 females – three from Muskoka and 26 from Simcoe County.

The ages of the deceased ranged from under 20 to 90s.

Gardner says there has also been a decline in outbreaks. There are 18 currently, down from 32 two weeks ago.

He noted that the health unit is only monitoring outbreaks in congregate settings like hospitals, long-term care facilities, child care centres, and not in businesses. 

During Gardner’s talk with the media, he also said the health unit has continued with school-based vaccination clinics.

Eight were held on Monday, Feb. 28, and seven on Tuesday, March 1, with a total of 240 vaccinations provided. 

Banner image – file photo – Barrie 360