Ontario will cancel most mask mandates — including schools, restaurants, gyms and stores — across the province on March 21, with remaining COVID-19 regulations set as well by the end of April.
The province says improved health indicators, such as a stable COVID-19 test positivity rate and declining hospitalizations, as well as Ontario’s high vaccination rate and availability of antiviral treatments, allow these steps.
The chief medical officer of health for the county, Dr. Kieran Moore, announced the new changes on Wednesday.
“We are now learning how to live with and deal with COVID-19 for the long term,” Moore said. This entails a shift to a more balanced response to the epidemic.
However, Moore said the mask removal mandate “doesn’t mean the danger is over” or that the pandemic is over.
He noted that concealment requirements may need to be brought back if there is another spike in COVID-19 cases, adding that people at risk should continue to take precautions despite the easing of restrictions.
“We must all be prepared because we may need to resume mask wearing,” he said, adding that he hoped anyone still vulnerable could continue to wear a mask.
Watch | Masks will no longer be bound in most settings:
“We will closely monitor COVID-19 trends across the province. We will not hesitate to take action if the situation changes and will inform Ontarians of any significant developments,” he said.
All restrictions will be lifted on April 27th
The next step in reopening Ontario will come on March 14, when mandatory vaccination or testing policies for workers in schools, childcare settings, hospitals and long-term care will end. Individual organizations can keep their own requirements, and most hospitals have said they will continue with stringent vaccine mandates.
On March 21, masking requirements will be removed in most closed places in the county, including restaurants, retail, fitness centers, grocery stores and schools.
- You can read the full county update at the end of this story.
The states will remain in place for a while for public transportation, long-term care and retirement homes, shelters, prisons, care and group living environments. Toronto’s chief medical officer has recommended that the city’s mask expires closely with Ontario.
Other measures will also be lifted in schools on that date, including cohort removal and daily on-site examination. In addition, all other regulatory requirements for companies, including passive screening and safety plans, will be removed.
Then on April 27, all remaining mask requirements and emergency orders will expire.
Meanwhile, Ontario is also expanding the list of eligible settings for PCR testing to include home and community care settings and provincial pilot schools.
Science Table Head Says: ‘Not Backed by Science’
Shortly before Moore’s announcement, Premier Doug Ford said Ontario would remain vigilant even after its mask mandates were dropped, adding that “anyone who wants to wear a mask will be able to do so.” [is] More than welcome to.
“If you want to wear your mask, keep it on. If you want to take it off, take it off,” Ford said at a news conference.
The county has already begun to roll back some sanitary-epidemiological measures, lifting proof of vaccination rules for some businesses as well as capacity restrictions for businesses and social gatherings last week.
It’s “too early to tell” if removing mask mandates is the right move at this time, said Dr. Peter Johnny, who heads the COVID-19 Scientific Advisory Table in Ontario.
Talk to CBC Radio morning metro Before the announcement, Johnny was asked if the boycott was a scientific or a political one.
“It’s not supported by science right now because it’s so early,” he said. “We’ll need at least 1-2 weeks of additional data to say, ‘OK, we’re stable’ and move on to the next step.”
Many other experts agree.
The removal of capacity limits, vaccine certifications and mask mandates occurs in a relatively short period of time, and mask requirements should be kept in place until the weather becomes warmer and virus activity wanes naturally, says Dr. Gerald Evans, MD, an infectious disease physician.
Watch | An infectious disease specialist says masks are ‘imperfect’ but they still help:
“I’m as concerned as anyone else to get out of the pandemic and get back to how it was before 2020, but on the other hand, we have to be very careful,” Evans said.
“There’s kind of a narrative being pushed around here that it’s all over. We’re all done. Let’s move forward. And I think we just need to do that with more…caution based on time.”
The government’s plan also met with a backlash from one of the country’s largest education unions.
In a press release, the Ontario Elementary Teachers’ Federation (ETFO) called the plan “premature” and said this would put students at risk of disrupting in-person learning again.
The isolation guide changes from Wednesday
Isolation guidelines are also being changed Wednesday for close contacts of a person with COVID-19 or who is showing symptoms.
Anyone in close contact with someone outside their home with COVID-19 does not have to self-quarantine now, although it is still advised to wear a mask outside the home for 10 days and avoid high-risk people and settings.
If a family member tests positive or develops symptoms, people do not need to be isolated if they are 18 years of age or older and have received a booster dose, or if they are under 18 and have had two doses of the vaccine, or if they test positive for COVID-19 in the last 90 days.
Ontario is also updating the way it reports COVID-19 deaths as of Friday. The county will classify whether COVID-19 caused or contributed to the death, or if the cause of death was unknown or missing. Also, Ontario will report deaths by vaccination status and age group, removing from the cumulative total any deaths now classified as unrelated to COVID-19.
Data the county provided Wednesday indicates that the majority of reported COVID-19 deaths were caused by the virus, with about another 20% listed with COVID-19 as a contributing factor. Less than 10 percent of the deaths were classified as unrelated.
751 cases of COVID-19 have been hospitalized, and 27 more deaths have been reported
Meanwhile, the county reported 751 people in hospital with COVID-19 and another 27 deaths related to the virus on Wednesday.
Hospital admissions reported today are down slightly from Tuesday when 779 were reported, down from 847 this time last week.
According to the Ministry of Health, about 46 percent of those admitted to hospital were directly seeking treatment for symptoms of COVID-19, while 54 percent were admitted for other reasons but have since tested positive for the virus.
Of the reported treatment cases, 241 are in intensive care, down from 246 on Monday and down from 273 exactly one week ago.
About 82 percent of those patients were admitted to the intensive care unit specifically for the virus, while the rest were admitted for other reasons but also tested positive for the virus.
Ontario reported 1,974 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, although Moore cautioned that the actual number of new cases each day is likely to be 10 times higher than what is reported with limited PCR testing.
The 27 additional deaths reported on Wednesday bring the official death toll to 12,618.