Eastern Ontario top doctor pans plan to lift mask rules after March Break

The medical officer of health for the Eastern Ontario Health Unit says March 21 is too soon to lift the provincial rule requiring people to mask up in many public places. 

'I think the school boards needed more time to prepare,' Dr. Paul Roumeliotis says

Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, medical officer of health for the Eastern Ontario Health Unit, says March 21 is too early lift mask mandates in the province on March 9, 2022. (Felix Desroches/CBC)

The medical officer of health for the Eastern Ontario Health Unit says March 21 is too soon to lift the provincial rule requiring people to mask up in many public places.

"I think the school boards [and] people needed more time to prepare," Dr. Paul Roumeliotis said in his weekly COVID-19 briefing on Wednesday.

Roumeliotis's remarks came just hours after Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario's chief medical officer of health, outlined the province's plan to drop masks on March 21, as well as the requirements for schools to regularly screen students on-site and keep kids in separate cohorts.

Roumeliotis said axing those measures comes too close on the heels of March Break. 

"We would need a couple of weeks just to assess what happens after spring break because we typically get surges of cases after a school break," he said.

Aaron Schmidt, an Ottawa father of two daughters attending elementary school, agreed.

"Right after March Break is problematic," he said. "We know lots of friends and even family who are traveling."

Schmidt said his daughters will keep their masks on in-class.

"At lunchtime they are unmasked when they're all eating and my daughter has talked about there being issues with that," he said. 

Ottawa father Aaron Schmidt says his two grade school daughters will still wear their masks. (CBC)

The Children's Health Coalition — a group that includes CHEO, eastern Ontario's hospital for children in Ottawa — also criticized the provincial government's plan.

"Since we know that most cases of COVID-19 identified in schools originate outside of school, we would have preferred to see masks kept in place for two weeks after March Break," the coalition said in a statement issued Wednesday. 

"Masks remain an important layer."

Two Ottawa school boards, le Conseil des écoles publiques de l'Est de l'Ontario and the Ottawa Carleton District School Board, said they were still poring over details of the plan. 

Ottawans mixed on maintaining masks

The easing of restrictions announced Wednesday extends beyond schools.

On March 21, masking requirements will be removed in most indoor settings in the province, including restaurants, retail, fitness centres and grocery stores.

  • You can read the province's full update at the bottom of this story.

Mandates will still remain in place for a period of time for public transit, long-term care and retirement homes, shelters, jails and congregate care and living settings. 

Ottawans interviewed downtown on Bank Street Wednesday were mixed on whether they'd chuck, or cling to, their masks. 

WATCH | Reaction in Ottawa to the end of mask rules:

Ottawa residents weigh in on upcoming end of provincial mask mandate

11 months ago
Duration 1:32
The province of Ontario will stop requiring masks in schools, restaurants, gyms and stores on March 21, though some Ottawa residents say they still plan to wear one.

"I think I'll still wear my mask," said one mother. "I have a young child at home who's not vaccinated."

Kristy Henwood said that if she didn't have to, "I wouldn't wear [one] right now."

"It depends on how close people are," Vivian Santizo said of her future masking plans. 

OK 'to take the next step,' Etches says

Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa's medical officer of health, said she hopes people keep wearing masks to protect themselves and others. 

"Just because something is not required doesn't mean we don't need to continue to do it," she said.

Key COVID-19 indicators such as Ottawa's coronavirus wastewater signal, hospitalizations and outbreaks have come down and are stable, allowing the province "to take the next step" in easing restrictions, Etches said.

But people need to "proceed cautiously" and respect that some people will chose to remain masked, she added.

That's what Ottawa resident Lyne-Marie Racicot is hoping for.

"I want to feel safe health-wise, but I'd love to feel safe socially as well." 

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Guy Quenneville

Reporter at CBC Ottawa, originally from Cornwall, Ont.

Story tips? Email me at or DM me @gqinott on Twitter.

With files from Sandra Abma, Joanne Chianello, Sara Jabakhanji and Julia Knope


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