End of mask mandate in Ontario has fueled growing COVID-19 wave, provincial report suggests

Ontario’s decision to end mandatory mask-wearing in most public settings in March is at least partly responsible for the province’s rapidly growing sixth wave, research released by a provincial body says.

An information briefing into the Omicron subvariant BA.2 published by Public Health Ontario has several stark findings.

The document said severe COVID-19 could increase for children and suggested the removal of mask mandates can be linked to higher case counts and hospitalizations in the province.

The BA.2 subvariant made up more than half of Ontario’s cases almost a month ago. According to Public Health Ontario, 54 per cent of cases recorded between March 13 and March 19 were attributed to the subvariant, up from 6.3 per cent between Jan. 23 and 29.

Read more: COVID-19: Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington reports highest infection rate in Ontario

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The new subvariant is even more transmissible than Omicron, the research said.

Ontario lifted mandatory masks in most public settings on March 21, although masks are still required in some places including public transit and long-term care homes.

“Close monitoring of epidemiological trends since March 21, 2022, suggests a corresponding temporal association with a subsequent increase in confirmed COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations,” the Public Health Ontario research said.

Read more: Ontario COVID-19 update: 977 people in hospital, 173 in intensive care

The province has repeatedly defended its reopening plan in the face of Ontario’s sixth COVID-19 wave.

“It’s not unanticipated that this would happen,” the Minister of Health, Christine Elliott, said on April 5.

“When you’re opening up the province to the degree that we have, and with the transmissibility of this virus, we expected to see the numbers increase,” she continued.

“But we have over 3,100 extra beds. We have the capacity. We also have a highly vaccinated population. We have the antivirals ready as well. So we have the measures that we need to deal with this.”

The Ministry of Health did not respond to a request for comment for this story in time for publication.

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Read more: COVID-19 sixth wave: 5 ways Canadians can reduce and evaluate health risks

Lower vaccine uptake in children under the age of 12 (children under five cannot be vaccinated against COVID-19) also means the outcome from this wave could be severe, Public Health Ontario said.

The research said that “the number of children with severe diseases is likely to increase.”

The research emphasized the role masks could still play in blunting Ontario’s sixth COVID-19 wave.

“Masking with high-quality masks (i.e., good fit and filtration) at a population level is a public health measure that can be effective at reducing transmission, while enabling community settings and activities to continue functioning,” it said.

The paper suggested the re-implementation of mandatory masking would be one option.

“A new SARS-CoV-2 (variant of concern) could emerge and drastically change the course of the pandemic,” the document said.

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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