Province should give Toronto’s top doctor power to bring back mask mandates: Board of health

With COVID-19 cases soaring in school settings, some Ontario boards are set to vote on reintroducing masks in classrooms. Adrian Ghobrial with why one psychotherapist thinks it's a bad idea.

Ontario’s chief medical officer of health made it clear on Monday that mask mandates would not be returning imminently at the provincial level.

The Toronto Board of Health is now calling on the Ford government to give the city’s top doctor more power to reimpose mask mandates in some settings, such as in schools, amid a surge in COVID-19 infections across the city and province.

Toronto’s chief medical officer Dr. Eileen de Villa had the authority earlier in the pandemic to make masks mandatory — she says it was dropped last month when changes were made to the ‘Reopening Ontario Act.’

“When it comes to policies within the schools and what the appropriate measures are there, the province has been quite clear around the fact that they have purview there over and above what we can do within the context of public health,” says de Villa.

“So it is an area where the province reigns supreme.”


The changes to the act prevent local public health officials from issuing letters of instruction, such as making masks or vaccines mandatory.

Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said last week there are no plans to change the masking rules in the province, despite growing calls, and Moore reiterated that in his first public appearance in nearly a month on Monday.

“We will not be reinstating a broad mask mandate at this time,” he said, though admitting that masks could be brought back if healthcare system gets pushed to the brink.

“We should all be prepared that we may need to resume requirement for mask-wearing in indoor public spaces if a new variant of concern emerges, a threat to our healthcare system, or potentially during the winter months.”

The head of the province’s science advisory table, Dr. Peter Juni, told Breakfast Television on Monday that he continues to recommend masking and sas the panel has provided Moore with regular updates since he last provided a public update.

“I think the messaging is the problem. We don’t have clear communication,” says Juni. “Yes, the mask mandate has been lifted, but no, you cannot go back to normal. We continue to strongly recommend masks.”

De Villa is also still recommending the use of masks for students and staff in indoor settings even though the mandate has been dropped.

“We are in a period of increased COVID-19 activity,” she says. “And therefore we need to use all of the tools available to us.”

Meanwhile, masking requirements remain for public transit, long-term care, retirement homes and other health-care settings, congregate care settings, shelters, jails and homes for individuals with developmental disabilities.

Mandatory mask rules are currently scheduled to end for all remaining locations on April 27, but Moore says he is actively discussing a plan to extend mandatory face coverings in high-risk settings, including public transit.

Some Ontario school boards pushing for masking requirements

Some school boards in the province are making a push for the return of masking, as cases continue to climb in school settings.

On Tuesday, school board trustees in Ottawa will vote on bringing the mask mandate back to public schools. School boards in Hamilton and Halton will be holding similar votes later this month.

Last week, Public Health Ontario released an updated COVID-19 risk assessment briefing and suggested that the reintroduction of masking for indoors settings would help curb transmission in classrooms.

“Optimizing layers of prevention in K-12 schools, including temporary reimplementation of masking requirements indoors and improved air quality can reduce the risk of in-school transmission and related disruption,” reads the statement.

In Toronto, a trustee for the Toronto District School Board tells the Toronto Star she has not heard of a similar motion coming forward as in other boards. A trustee with the Toronto Catholic District School Board says she might consider a move, but wouldn’t want to raise false expectations in parents.

When asked about masks in classrooms on Monday, Dr. Moore said he doesn’t believe it is necessary.

“There has been no significant rise in risk of children in intensive care units,” he said.

With files from CityNews reporter Adrian Ghobrial

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