3 regional top doctors issue letter to Ontario urging reinstatement of indoor mask wearing

Following weeks of urging the Ontario government reinstate some COVID-19 measures during a sixth wave, three top doctors have written the province's chief medical officer of health to ask that mandatory masking be reinstated in all indoor settings.

Windsor-Essex, Peterborough, Niagara Region medical officers have stressed the issue for weeks

Mandatory mask wearing in indoor settings is the focus of a letter from Medical officers of health in Niagara, Peterborough and Windsor-Essex to Ontario's chief medical officer, Dr. Kieran Moore. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Following weeks of urging the Ontario government to reinstate some COVID-19 measures during a sixth wave, three top doctors have written the province's chief medical officer of health to ask that mandatory masking be reinstated in all indoor settings. 

Each of these medical officers has signed the letter to Dr. Kieran Moore to emphasize their concerns about the burden COVID-19 continues to have on their communities:

  • Dr. Shanker Nesathurai, Windsor-Essex acting medical officer of health.
  • Dr. Mustafa Hirji, Niagara's medical officer of health.
  • Dr. Thomas Piggott from Peterborough Public Health. 

For weeks, the three have been stressing the need for a regional approach to dealing with concerning COVID-19 case numbers . 

"We are writing today to commend you for your leadership last week ... to continue mask requirements in several high-risk settings," the letter says.

"We are also writing to you today to recommend that you build on this action. Specifically, to temporarily broaden the mask requirements in Ontario to include indoor public spaces such as workplaces, schools, college and universities, as well as essential service settings (such as grocery stores and pharmacies)."

CBC News reached out to Ontario's Ministry of Health for comment. In an email, a spokesperson for the ministry said, "Given the government is in caretaker mode for the duration of the provincial election, this media request cannot be accommodated at this time." 

In a media briefing Thursday, Nesathurai said the letter was formally sent Wednesday evening.

"We're hopeful the province will take action moving forward," he said. "Looking where we are in the pandemic and our experience, I think it's still a worthwhile measure."

Ontario scrapped most mask mandates — including in schools, restaurants, gyms and stores — on March 21. In April, the province extended its mask mandate for high-risk indoor settings.

The province's top doctor and some health units, including in Windsor-Essex, have strongly advised that mask wearing continue in schools, but haven't issued an order or directive. School boards in London and Ottawa have issued their own mandates for staff and students. 

Nesathurai said he and his colleagues have had continual dialogues with provincial officials, but felt sending a letter was a necessary step. 

"I think it's our responsibility as public health to contribute to the dialogue of this matter," said Nesathurai, calling the pandemic the most significant health event of his lifetime. 

Dr. Shanker Nesathurai, acting medical officer of health for Windsor-Essex, says indoor mask wearing is 'a worthwhile measure,' given continued pandemic concerns. (McMaster University)

The doctor said while he and his colleagues have the power to issue a Section 22 order in their districts to reinstate mask wearing, they feel a regional approach is best. The section of Ontario's Health Protection and Promotion Act grants local medical officers certain authority when faced with public health crises.

"The burden of COVID still remains significant to our society. We have to learn to live with COVID," he said.

"But part of learning to live with it is to identify strategies that will help mitigate the burden of disease recognizing it's likely to have increased level of activity and decreased level of activity."

Nesathurai said local and provincial data this week shows the disease is at a more steady level.

On Wednesday, Ontario reported 1,698 COVID-19 hospitalizations and 31 more deaths linked to the virus, as the head of the science table says the province has likely reached the peak of the sixth wave of the pandemic.

Dr. Peter Jüni, director of Ontario's COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, said hospitalizations and infections seen in wastewater data are gradually slowing down.

"I think we're on the right track," Jüni told CBC News Network on Tuesday. "If it continues to [decrease], the way we are looking right now, we should be getting back to normal over the next few weeks."

But Jüni warned "it's important not to get ahead of ourselves," adding Ontarians should continue to wear masks and limit contacts when possible.

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