Despite the province being in the middle of yet another wave of COVID-19, Ontario’s top doctor is not bringing back a mask mandate … at least for now.
“While will we not be reinstating a broad mask mandate at this time, we should all be prepared that we may need to resume a requirement for mask wearing in indoor public spaces if a new variant of concern emerges as a threat to our healthcare system or potentially during the winter months when COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses are likely to circulate again,” said Dr. Kieran Moore during a Monday afternoon briefing.
Moore was specifically asked about the possibility of bringing back the mandate for schools, however he noted there is no significant increase in ICU admission in children.
“Out of all of Ontario’s 2.75 million children there’s two in the intensive care unit right now. On average we’re having 30 to 60 children admitted to hospital – some of those are incidental admissions to hospital, as well – over a one-week period. So we’ve not seen any significant threat to the health of children. We absolutely encourage children to do all those basic steps of screening before they go to school,” he said.
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Moore said the current wave is being driven by the BA2 sub-variant of Omicron.
“In the last few weeks we have seen an increase in the percent positivity and upward trend in wastewater surveillance and a rise in hospitalizations. These trends are likely to continue for the next several weeks,” Moore said.
The province is also increasing access to antivirals such as Paxlovid for those who are most at risk.
As of April 12 individuals aged 18 and over who are immunocompromised those that are 70 and over or aged 60 and over with fewer than three vaccine doses and individuals aged 18 and over with fewer than three vaccine doses and at least one risk condition.
Available at participating pharmacies treatment for antivirals must be started within five days of COVID symptoms in most cases.
“Antiviral treatment, including the oral antiviral Paxlovid can help to reduce hospitalizations, protect hospital capacity, and protect patients at high risk of severe health outcomes,” Moore said.
This week’s update was the first in a month, with Moore noting there hadn’t been much in the way of new developments to warrant a briefing.
However, one expert said that more messaging is needed.
“I think there is a little bit of lack of public messaging from public health leaders, especially now when it’s circulating quite widely. I think more concrete messaging and seeing someone who is a little more decisive in terms of their messaging would be probably a lot more appreciated by a lot of people,” said Todd Coleman, an epidemiologist and assistant professor at Wilfrid Laurier University.
That lack of messaging, combined with a lack of testing makes it difficult to know how serious the current wave is, Coleman said.
“I would characterize it as serious but we’re also dealing with a number of unknowns. The thing that we want to know is how many people are protected against COVID-19 right now,” he explained.
Coleman also said that the antivirals are not something that could be relied on for the entire population.
“The availability of it right now is quite limited. … But if it is used in those who are highly vulnerable, then it could be quite effective in reducing those severe outcomes,” he explained.
Coleman said that he completely agreed with the antiviral push being for the people who are most at risk, however he emphasised that the vaccines are what will prevent infection.
“So basically if you look at it on comparing the two antivirals, those antivirals are efficient once you’ve gotten infected, but vaccines help prevent infection altogether,” he said.
Waterloo Region recently made a second booster dose available for those aged 60 and older, as well as for Indigenous residents and their non-Indigenous household members aged 18 and older. However, the region’s third dose percentage remains low with about 50 per cent of the population having received a first booster shot.
“There seems to be some waning of people’s willingness to get the dose. I think continued push on promoting the efficacy and effectiveness of it, and really making it widely available would allow for that. The availability of the fourth booster is nowhere near the availability of the original two dose boosters. So that could also affect people’s willingness for uptake of the booster,” Coleman said.