Toronto’s top doctor urges residents to continue wearing masks indoors amid sixth wave of pandemic

Toronto’s top doctor is urging residents to return to wearing masks in public indoor settings amid a rise in COVID-19 transmission in the city.

The Ford government lifted the mask mandate for most settings last month but with wastewater surveillance now pointing to a significant uptick in the level of COVID-19 activity in Ontario, some epidemiologists are calling for its revival.

During a press conference on Monday, Toronto Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa said that she doesn’t believe mandates are appropriate at this point in the pandemic, given that they were always intended to be a “temporary tool” for a time when few other protections existed.

But she said that she is encouraging Torontonians to continue wearing masks as much as possible, especially with COVID-19 circulating in the community to the degree it is right now.

Her comments come on the heels of several other local medical officers of health providing similar advice to residents, including Ottawa’s top doctor.

“We should expect that from time to time we are going to have to adjust our behavior to use all the layers of self protection that we have at our disposal to respond appropriately to the COVID-19 activity in our community. This is one of those times,” de Villa said. “Wearing a mask is a simple thing we can all do, especially if you are older, have older people in your life, have a serious health condition or simply are indoors with people you do not know.”

The number of people in Ontario hospitals with COVID-19 has risen by more than 30 per cent over the last week and now stands at 857.

Positivity rates on the limited number of PCR tests being carried out in the province are also spiking.

Over the last 24 hours, 19 per cent of all samples came back positive, which is the highest that number has reached since the peak of the Omicron-fueled fifth wave of the pandemic on Jan. 18.

Speaking with reporters at an event held to discuss a new vaccination campaign, de Villa said that the uptick in virus activity is not all together unexpected given the lifting of most public health measures.

However, she said it should serve as an important reminder that “we are not post-pandemic no matter how tired we may be and no matter how much we wish that it were so.”

“I think we have the tools and knowledge available to us at this point to really help see our way through regardless of what decisions are taken by the province,” she said.

Health Minister Christine Elliott was asked last week whether the province would consider reimposing its mask mandate but said that “doesn’t appear necessary” at this time.

Elliott also said that Ontarians “need to get on with our life and learn to live with COVID.”

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