Thunder Bay's top doctor encourages people to mask up for '2-3 weeks' despite end of provincial mandate
Dr. Janet DeMille says she's reassured by recent trends, but hopes masking continues
The medical officer of health for the Thunder Bay, Ont., district recommends people continue to wear masks after the provincial requirement eases next week, but says she won't impose local measures.
Starting on March 21, mandatory mask mandates will be lifted across Ontario for several indoor public settings, including schools.
Thunder Bay district medical officer of health Dr. Janet DeMille said she is feeling "fairly reassured" about the local COVID-19 situation, but said the conversation around masks is complex.
"I am encouraging people, at least for the next couple of weeks — two to three weeks — to continue wearing your mask, especially in indoor public spaces, especially where it might be more crowded and might have more interactions among people," she said.
"I say this — this is optional — I'm not doing anything to require it, but certainly encouraging people to really consider continuing masking."
Lakehead District School Board trustees last week voted to request DeMille issue an order that would extend the masking requirement in schools.
DeMille acknowledged receiving that request, but said she responded that it was the purview of the provincial government to make decisions about mask mandates.
On Thursday, during a visit to a mine north of Thunder Bay, Premier Doug Ford was asked about the situation.
"If there's an outbreak, that's not a problem. But some of the school boards, they think they're medical experts," Ford said.
"I listen to the chief medical officer. And if the kids want to keep their mask on, God bless them, keep your mask on. No problem. You want to take it off? They should be able to take them off."
DeMille said while the area's case count has dropped — with 163 active lab confirmed cases, as of Wednesday's update — compared to January, she acknowledged that the virus is still circulating in the region and people continue to require hospitalization.
As of Thursday, there were 27 patients admitted to the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre who have tested positive for COVID-19, with six of them in the intensive care unit.
"Even if some people are masking, that will help reduce the spread. The reality is though, that once we remove masking, that the virus will have more opportunity to spread," she said.
"If you're a student in a school, if you're going to a cinema, if you're going to the hairdresser and having that sort of one-to-one sort of interaction with that with a hairdresser, these are all sort of examples where the virus can spread and the virus is still here.
"The pandemic has not gone. The virus is still here. So people have to sort of assess the risks, their own risk, the risk of their household members, because it will spread in the household as well and make decisions about what they want to do and certainly how they might want to protect themselves if they choose to to do particular activities."
- The headline of this story has been changed to clarify the position of Dr. Janet DeMille.Mar 18, 2022 1:01 PM ET