TORONTO – The scientific director of the panel advising Ontario on COVID-19 says wearing masks indoors for another few weeks, whether they’re mandated or not, will be key to battling a “tidal wave” of cases sweeping through the province.
Dr. Peter Juni says wastewater monitoring suggests the province is seeing between 100,000 and 120,000 new cases of the virus each day — a far cry from the 4,224 officially reported Thursday due to limits on PCR testing.
Juni says those same testing limits mean it’s unclear how long this wave will last, because we don’t know how many people have been infected so far and have an extra bit of immunity.
But he says getting a third dose of COVID-19 vaccine is even more effective at boosting immunity than catching the virus, as evidence suggests the current variant can be caught multiple times.
His comments come as all three Opposition parties called on the government to reinstate or continue several public health measures, including mandatory masking, in order to blunt the sixth wave of COVID-19.
Hospitalizations are up 40 per cent week over week, with 1,126 people reported hospitalized with the virus Thursday and 159 in intensive care.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath is calling for the government to either reinstate mandatory masking in public places or explain why they won’t.
She also says masks should be required in schools and the mandate should not be lifted for hospitals, long-term care homes and public transit on April 27 as planned.
Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca also says ending mask mandates in those places on April 27 is a “huge mistake” and masks should be required again in essential indoor settings such as schools, pharmacies and grocery stores.
Green Leader Mike Schreiner, Horwath and Del Duca are also urging the government to broadly expand access to PCR testing so people know for sure when they are sick or contagious.
But Health Minister Christine Elliott says the rise in cases was anticipated, citing the province’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Kieran Moore.
“Dr. Moore has recommended that masks don’t need to be worn except in certain circumstances in hospitals, in long-term care homes and other congregate settings where it’s necessary for the protection of people,” Elliott said at the legislature Thursday.
“Should Dr. Moore change his views in the coming days we will be making those changes as necessary, but as for wearing masks it is something that is voluntary, although most people are choosing to wear masks in crowded public spaces and we anticipate they will continue to do so.”
Meanwhile, Ontarians aged 60 and older were able to start booking appointments for a fourth dose of a COVID-19 vaccine Thursday.
First Nations, Inuit and Metis individuals and their non-Indigenous household members aged 18 and above are also eligible to start booking those shots.
Fourth doses are being offered at a recommended interval of five months after the initial booster shot.
Residents can book appointments through the provincial vaccine portal, public health units with separate booking systems, Indigenous-led vaccination clinics and some pharmacies.
Fourth doses are already available to long-term care and retirement home residents and immunocompromised people in Ontario.