Ontario’s top doctor urges mask wearing, warns mandate could return

Ontario’s top doctor fears rising COVID-19 cases and the approach of winter could further jeopardize the province’s struggling health-care system, forcing the Ford government to potentially re-implement a mandatory masking policy if the situation worsens.

In an interview with Global News, Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s medical officer of health, urged people to get vaccines, boosters and wear a mask to avoid an unmanageable surge in hospital admissions.

He said the rate of uptake for fourth doses by Ontarians aged 70 and older — around 16 per cent — was “not acceptable” and said public health measures like mandatory masking could return “if necessary.”

“Sixteen per cent is absolutely not acceptable to me,” he said, urging people to book an appointment.

Read more: Public Health Ontario says COVID cases have gradually risen

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While a return to mandatory masking is not yet being recommended, Moore called on people to consider wearing masks indoors as cases rise and said he would not hesitate to recommend a stronger measure if necessary.

“If there is any significant impact on our health system where we can’t care for Ontarians appropriately, I will absolutely have the conversation with government (around) whether we have to mandate masking for a set period of time,” Moore told Global News.

Data maintained by Public Health Ontario shows the percentage of positive COVID-19 tests increased at the beginning of October.

In the week ending Sept. 10, 11.4 per cent of tests in Ontario came back positive. That number sat at 13.3 per cent in the week ending Oct. 1.

Hospital admissions are also higher than they were in the spring, although below where they were at the beginning of the year. In the week ending Oct. 1, 365 people were admitted to hospital in Ontario with COVID-19.

Read more: COVID burden to fall on primary care, Ontario needs new approach: science table

Moore, who has previously said Ontario needs to “learn to live with COVID,” said annual boosters may become a reality.

“It may be that every winter that we’ll need an annual booster to protect us through those dark days of winter, where we’re indoors more often,” he said.

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Ontarians 12 years and older are eligible for Pfizer’s bivalent booster, with the government expanding its age range on Oct. 17.

“The Ontario government is reminding people to stay up-to-date with their vaccines as we enter respiratory illness season,” officials said.

Read more: COVID-19 vaccine uptake for young Ontario children lower than experts had expected

Appointments can be made through the provincial booking system, local public health units, and participating pharmacies and health care providers.

The booster shot is the second bivalent vaccine to get federal approval after Moderna’s modified booster was authorized for use last month.

As well as highlighting the need for boosters, Moore urged people not to forget masks.

“Ontarians know that masking has worked — over the last two years we’ve had minimal influenza affecting out health system,” Moore said.

— with files from Global News’ Gabby Rodrigues

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

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