Ottawa’s medical officer of health says she wants to see mask mandates remain in effect across Ontario even after the province moves out of Step 3 of its reopening plan.

Speaking to reporters Thursday, Dr. Vera Etches said she has spoken with Ontario’s chief medical officer of health. Dr. Kieran Moore, about maintaining a province-wide mask mandate come fall.

“What I expect, going into the fall, is that (Ottawa) will continue to operate under provincial regulations and I’m speaking with our chief medical officer of health about continuing to include mask requirements for crowds,” she said.

“My recommendation would be to have a province-wide approach,” she added. “We’re all connected and travel is increasing as people have that protection (from vaccines). It’s one of those things that is under active conversation and consideration for the next step.”

On Thursday, Ontario hit one of its benchmarks for moving beyond Step 3, but Health Minister Christine Elliott said there is still work to be done. The earliest Ontario can move past Step 3 is Aug. 6.

Ottawa has a local mandatory mask bylaw that covers mask use in public places, but city staff say it will expire on Aug. 26, as local authorities have been following the provincial guidelines. The temporary mandatory mask bylaw was first enacted when there were no provincial regulations regarding mask use as a public health measure.

Etches says that although the Public Health Agency of Canada says small groups of fully vaccinated people do not require masks, they are still a helpful tool in larger groups or when the vaccination status of others is unknown.

“Often, we don’t know the vaccination status of others in the workplace or others in a crowd,” she said. “Masks, in particular, are a very useful tool to continue to keep transmission lower when you’re indoors and in crowded places.”

Aside from masks, however, Etches was unsure about what other restrictions she would want to see continue.

“I think this is part of what we need to monitor and assess: which of the measures are going to be the most effective and strike the right balance as we go into the fall,” she said. “I’m not part of the public health measures table, but I know they have been looking at the evidence and the international experience around what is worth maintaining and, clearly, masks stand out as one of the practices that is helpful.”

Etches said she is confident vaccine uptake combined with continued public health measures will help keep the worst effects of a possible fall resurgence in cases at bay. Moore has previously said he expects a rise in cases in the fall but Etches said she believes schools can remain open.

“Our way of handling exposure to COVID-19 in schools is changing because of vaccination. If you’re vaccinated, even if you’re exposed to somebody who is positive in the school environment, you won’t have to go home to isolate for two weeks,” she said. “I hope that can encourage people to head out this week, if you haven’t already had your first dose or haven’t had your second dose. You can walk in to any clinic.”

Etches said Ottawa Public Health is also piloting a project that would allow someone who develops symptoms at school to return home with a take-home COVID-19 test if accessing testing is a challenge.

A full back-to-school plan from the provincial government is expected to be announced next week.

 

Source: https://ottawa.ctvnews.ca/ottawa-s-top-doctor-wants-to-see-provincial-mask-mandates-remain-in-place-this-fall-1.5528192

Written by: Ted Raymond

The CDC advised Americans on Tuesday to wear masks in public indoor settings, even if fully immunized, just two months after recommending that vaccinated people can avoid donning masks indoors, and only weeks after four Canadian provinces relaxed their own rules around mask wearing.

The reversal by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was prompted by the spread of the highly transmissible Delta variant and rising COVID-19 case numbers across the country.

British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and PEI stopped requiring masks in most indoor settings earlier this month in response to a surge in Canadian vaccination rates. Those provinces say they have no plans to tighten indoor mask mandates, despite the urging of health experts who say mask wearing will help curb the spread of the Delta variant. New Brunswick is set to remove its mask mandate on Friday.

Meanwhile, case numbers in Canada are rising. Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam said in a statement Tuesday that Canada saw a 36-per-cent increase in pandemic cases between July 20-26 compared with the previous week, while severe illness resulting from COVID-19 has continued to decline.

She said the Delta variant, which has infected vaccinated people on rare occasions, is one of the most prevalent strands in the country. The spread of Delta forced Israel to reimplement a mask mandate in late June, just 10 days after lifting it, when daily cases rose from zero to triple digits.

Dr. Tam encouraged people to continue wearing masks to help reduce the spread. Public Health Agency of Canada spokeswoman Tammy Jarbeau said in an e-mail that the agency does not expect that guidance to change any time soon.

However, Alberta Health spokeswoman Lisa Glover said in an e-mail that the province’s mask mandate will remain lifted for most public indoor settings, as it has been since July 1, but that the province will continue to monitor and adapt its approach as needed. Masking is now only compulsory for those who work or visit continuing-care facilities, hospitals and other acute-care facilities; and when using public transit or rideshares and taxis.

“While masking is currently required in certain settings, we encourage all Albertans to assess their individual situation and risk factors when making decisions about whether they wish to wear a mask in other locations,” Ms. Glover said in the e-mail.

B.C. Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry said Tuesday that although the province lifted its mask mandate, residents are still encouraged to wear masks to protect themselves and others.

“We are getting there, but we’re not yet at the place where we can let up these measures and our recommendations to everybody will continue to be wearing masks in indoor public spaces, particularly when they’re crowded spaces,” Dr. Henry said.

PEI Chief Public Health Officer Heather Morrison said that the province, which only has two active cases, plans to continue living mask-free. Dr. Morrison attributes PEI’s success to strong vaccination rates and testing of most who enter PEI’s boundaries.

“Masking is an additional layer of protection but not our first layer of protection,” Dr. Morrison said. “If we need to change things at any point, we will.”

Like PEI, Saskatchewan also plans to continue to do without masks, and to rely on vaccines to keep case numbers low.

“Vaccination continues to offer residents the best protection against COVID-19 and its variants, and the province continues to focus on increasing vaccination rates,” said Colleen Book, director of communications at the Saskatchewan Ministry of Health.

Guidelines around mask wearing have evolved since the start of the pandemic. After being deemed unnecessary for healthy individuals by some Canadian public-health officials in March, 2020, Dr. Tam soon recommended their use in light of new research.

Shannon Majowicz, an epidemiologist and associate professor at the University of Waterloo, said she expects provincial mask mandates to come back into place, given the virality of the Delta variant. She thinks it would be the right move.

“I’m not in a rush to see masking lifted because I do think it is one of the things that will let us have a lot more of activities possible,” she said. “Vaccines work best when they have less work to do, and masking is the way to do that.”

Dr. Majowicz said Canada’s high inoculation rate made it possible to consider removing mask mandates. According to recent data, almost 65 per cent of residents older than 12 were fully vaccinated.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Tuesday that Canada has enough doses to fully inoculate everybody eligible, a milestone hit two months ahead of schedule. Dr. Majowicz said, however, that it could take a vaccination percentage in the high nineties to really get rid of masks without fear of seeing more case surges.

For that to happen, she said, children 12 and under must receive their doses. That age group is still waiting for vaccines to become available. Until that happens, she calls it a no-brainer to continue wearing masks.

“Why wouldn’t you put a protective measure over your face? It’s a relatively easy measure we can take that really does make a substantial difference,” Dr. Majowicz said. “We are so close to near normalcy.”

 

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-provinces-wont-tighten-indoor-mask-rules-despite-rising-covid-19-cases/

Written by: ALEX CYR AND CHANTELLE LEE

The American Academy of Pediatrics issued recommendations Monday for the 2021-22 school year that include everyone older than age 2 wearing masks, regardless of vaccination status.

The academy also “strongly recommends” in-person learning and urges all who are eligible be vaccinated to protect against COVID-19. AAP said it amplifies the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendations for building ventilation, testing, quarantining, cleaning and disinfection in the updated guidance.

Dr. Sonja O’Leary, chair of the AAP Council on School Health, said the pandemic has taken a “heartbreaking toll” on children.

“We need to prioritize getting children back into schools alongside their friends and their teachers — and we all play a role in making sure it happens safely,” O’Leary said.

The announcement comes as new coronavirus cases are rising across the nation. Infections rose in all 50 states on Sunday for the fourth day in a row on a rolling seven-day average, an ominous run not seen since the spring 2020 surge.

The weekly rolling average for cases in the United States has nearly tripled in the last month. The pace of deaths also is up sharply – 24.7% from its low point two weeks ago. It also comes as Canada is planning to reopen its borders to vaccinated Americans and guidance from both the CDC and State Department advising against traveling to the United Kingdom due to the growth of the contagious Delta variant.

Source: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/health/2021/07/19/covid-vaccine-variant-mask-restrictions-hospitalizations/8008947002/

Written by: John Bacon, Elinor Aspegren, Christal Hayes

The World Health Organization (WHO) is urging fully vaccinated people to continue wearing face masks and follow physical distancing measures as the highly infectious Delta variant spurs new COVID-19 outbreaks around the world.

At a press briefing in Geneva on Friday, WHO officials said masks should stay on, even for those who have received both doses of a vaccine series.

“Vaccine alone won’t stop community transmission,” said Mariangela Simao, the WHO’s assistant director-general for access to medicines and health products. “People need to continue to use masks consistently, be in ventilated spaces, hygiene, physical distance, avoid crowding.”

Simao said public health measures continue to be “extremely important” as countries cope with outbreaks of the COVID-19 Delta variant, despite high vaccination rates.

“People cannot feel safe just because they’ve had the two doses. They still need to protect themselves,” Simao said.

While COVID-19 vaccines have shown to be effective in preventing severe disease and death, including against the Delta variant, WHO officials say it is a “dangerous variant” and fully vaccinated people can be part of its transmission chain if measures aren’t maintained.

The news comes as countries continue to ease public health measures and offer new guidelines for those who are fully vaccinated.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced on May 13 that fully vaccinated Americans do not need to wear masks outdoors and can avoid wearing them indoors in most places.

Canadian guidance, released on Thursday, suggests that those who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can hug each other, attend barbecues and have a small group of friends over for dinner without wearing a mask or staying apart.

However, the Public Health Agency of Canada says Canadians might still want to protect themselves in certain situations such as at crowded concerts, sports events or house parties.

The Delta variant, first identified in India, has now become the dominant strain in the U.K. and accounts for about one in every five new coronavirus infections in the U.S.

Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam warned on Friday that the Delta variant continues to pose a real risk in Canada based on international experience.

Between April 25 and May 23, Canada saw a four-fold increase in the proportion of Delta cases, with the majority of them being found in unvaccinated or partially-vaccinated people, according to the latest modelling data.

The modelling shows that if the Delta variant becomes the predominant strain, Canada could once again risk exceeding hospitalization capacity as the variant is 50 per cent more transmissible than the original strain of COVID-19, and results in more severe infections.

However, if Canada hits around 80 per cent of the population fully vaccinated, the modelling suggests that a fourth wave could be avoided.

Until that mass vaccination level is reached, Tam suggested that personal protective measures like mask-wearing will remain important.

 

Source: https://www.ctvnews.ca/health/coronavirus/who-urges-fully-vaccinated-people-to-wear-masks-as-delta-variant-cases-surge-1.5489999

Written by: Brooklyn Neustaeter

As a paramedic for a major service in Ontario, Stefanie Kranjec Correia knows firsthand the important role masks have played keeping her and her frontline colleagues safe throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. She is fully vaccinated now, but has no plans to retire her masks even in a post-pandemic world — and she is not alone.

From not wanting to get sick or make others sick, to enjoying unexpected benefits like keeping warm in the winter and finding refuge in anonymity, some people have come to appreciate the small piece of fabric for reasons other than preventing COVID-19 infections.

With vaccination rates going up and case numbers and hospitalizations coming down, the chatter has already begun on when things will return to “normal.” While there are no signs that public health guidelines in Canada will change anytime soon, discussions around mask-wearing have renewed after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s announcement on May 13 that those who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 would not have to wear one indoors.

Correia told CTVNews.ca she will keep wearing them on public transit and during cold and flu season, even if “some people might raise their eyebrows.”

“I don’t care, I’m going to wear a mask because I’m not going to bring that crap home … People can call me overprotective, or neurotic, or paranoid, or whatever.”

Correia would rather not see her three children — all under the age of six — suffer unnecessarily from colds, but she has extra reason to remain cautious: her husband, Nuno Correia, has an autoimmune disease that makes him especially vulnerable.

“Now he’s walking around in the middle of a pandemic with no immune system. So that’s why he got his second dose so fast,” she said.

But because of the medication he takes, they have no idea how effective the vaccine will ultimately be for him. Their children know they have to be extra safe for their dad and have been really good about wearing their masks, Correia said.

“So that’s another reason why it makes sense for us to mask up when we’re in situations where we’re in large crowds, or we’re out and about during flu season.”

The conversation around masks has evolved dramatically during the pandemic. The hesitancy in the early days stemmed from a combination of public health messaging, concerns about a supply shortage for health-care workers, doubts over the airborne nature of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and skepticism around the effectiveness of masks. For some, masks have been — and remain — a political flashpoint as well.

But videos that visualized how masks prevent germs from spreading and numerous studies published over the last year have persuasively demonstrated their protective function alongside physical distancing and hand-washing, particularly if the wearer is sick.

Mask-wearing in public was recommended by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) in May 2020. By September, 97 per cent of Canadians over the age of 12 were publicly wearing a mask, Statistics Canada found.

In Canada and around the world, the public health measures also helped drive influenza numbers to unimaginably low levels. There were so few cases and no evidence of any community transmission across Canada that PHAC never declared a flu season. According to government data, there were a total of 55,379 influenza cases during the 2019 to 2020 season, which was also cut short by the pandemic. In contrast, only 72 cases of the flu had been confirmed this season as of May 22, 2021.

“I would probably still wear a mask on public transit, especially if I had a cold. It’s very packed most of the time,” said Chloe Hong. She lives in the Greater Toronto Area and commuted to work by public transit prior to the pandemic.

It is a sentiment echoed by Julie Gordon, who lives in Ottawa. She and Hong were among a dozen people who told CTVNews.ca they plan to continue wearing masks as needed even when it becomes no longer necessary.

“Oh man, I hope that becomes the norm for cold and flu,” Gordon said. Still, she added, “I’m wondering about the societal pressure to ‘go back to normal’ though.”

Many would like to see mask-wearing normalized, which could also help those who can not afford to take unpaid sick days and/or who have no choice but to take public transit for work, for example.

Others say the motivation to keep wearing masks extends beyond catching viruses too.

This past winter, many social media users were delighted to finally have a solution that kept their noses warm.

“Can we keep masks when COVID ends? They keep my face warm in winter AND let me hide my God-awful jawline. No downsides,” one user tweeted in January.

And Joyce Alene wrote on Twitter in April, “While so many people are tired of wearing masks, personally, I’m ecstatic to have found something that works for [seasonal] allergies.”

Some women found that wearing a mask meant they didn’t have to worry about their appearance. It also kept men from harassing them or being told to “smile”, the Washington Post and New York Times have both reported.

“Wearing a mask is so liberating I might hang on to it, even if they do find a COVID-19 cure,” Clare Mackintosh told the Times last year. “Not a single person has suggested I’d look prettier with a grin on my face.”

Susan Orlean, a staff writer for The New Yorker, wrote in a Medium post about the “unexpected pleasures” of mask-wearing and how she has “grown to like the neutrality of wearing a mask. I like the privacy it affords me, and the fact that my expression is mine and mine alone.”

It’s a sentiment shared by others: “I enjoy wearing my mask now, it gives me some privacy lol. I think it will be a permanent part of my lifestyle,” one Twitter user wrote earlier this month.

A blog about urban China once compared wearing masks to wearing headphones or sunglasses — serving as a “social firewall” or a “do not disturb” sign when in public.

In many parts of Asia where mask-wearing was normalized prior to the pandemic, it was also not uncommon to see people wearing them when they were under the weather or when the air quality index — which measures how polluted the air is — was particularly high, for example. And celebrities wore them to maintain their anonymity while out in public.

To be sure, while there are a number of valid reasons why some people will be glad to see the end of masks – from medical exemptions to past trauma — wearing them has been contentious since the beginning. And in the U.S., there are numerous reports of a backlash against those who continue to wear them despite the CDC’s new guidance.

Correia is sympathetic and could see some people who were not anti-maskers during the pandemic behave and react poorly toward mask-wearers like herself in a post-pandemic environment.

“Seeing someone with a mask is going to be like a slap in the face to them,that things are not the way they were, and it’s going to make them uncomfortable and when people get uncomfortable, they react badly … just because they don’t want to be reminded of the hell that we’ve been through,” Correia said.

The mental health toll experts warned about throughout the pandemic is unlikely to disappear overnight. Despite some people’s wish to ease away from masks, there remains a lot of nervousness around returning to normal after living in a pandemic. A Leger survey in May found that 52 per cent of respondents felt some degree of anxiety over the idea of going back to how things were before COVID-19.

Even with all the practical reasons why Correia plans to keep masking-up, the pandemic has permanently altered her perspective.

“Just being on the front line, and seeing the absolute devastation of what this did to every generation, families, and to businesses, and to the economy, and to our faith in public institutions, and just the way we live our lives — I’m not going to forget that.”

Source: https://www.ctvnews.ca/health/coronavirus/mask-wearing-after-covid-19-some-canadians-see-lasting-benefits-1.5466405

Written by: Solarina Ho

As more regions in Canada start reopening, and millions of people return to restaurants, gyms, stores and salons, infectious diseases experts say there are some crucial precautions both business owners and individuals should maintain to prevent more infections.

Unlike in the North and the Atlantic provinces, where lower case counts meant more businesses could operate at closer-to-normal levels throughout much of the pandemic, several provinces hard-hit by COVID-19 cases are only easing their latest rounds of public health restrictions starting in the weeks ahead.

Alberta revealed its plan to fully reopen by early July on Wednesday, following on the heels of SaskatchewanQuebec, Ontario and B.C. — provinces that are all aiming to gradually lift restrictions over the coming weeks and months, if case counts keep going down while vaccination rates go up.

That means shopping, dining, playing sports, working in an office, attending school in-person, and gathering with family and friends will all likely be part of daily life again soon in more regions.

“Yes, things are opening up,” said Dr. Stephanie Smith, a professor in the infectious diseases division at the University of Alberta’s department of medicine and the university’s director of infection prevention and control.

“But we can’t just abandon all the measures that we’ve put in place.”

That means maintaining public health precautions such as mask-wearing, physical distancing and basic hand hygiene — and, in the case of some workplaces, upgrading their ventilation — during this transition period back to normal life, since many Canadians remain vulnerable and unvaccinated.

“We have to recognize that although our case numbers are going down … there still is some COVID circulating in the community,” Smith said.

Ventilation, mask-wearing both key

Infectious diseases specialist Dr. Srinivas Murthy, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of British Columbia, said Canadians need to be approaching transmission risk based on the most up-to-date understanding of how the virus transmits.

“In an ideal world, we would have clear public health guidance from each of our respective authorities,” he said. “What you should and shouldn’t do in this context.”

The 3 Cs approach developed in Japan — avoiding closed spaces, crowded places, and close-contact settings — sums up the best lessons we’ve learned so far about how to curb transmission, Murthy said.

Epidemiological case studies have also reported long-range virus transmission beyond a few metres in a variety of indoor settings, such as churches, restaurants, concert halls and office buildings, notes a report released earlier this month from Public Health Ontario, which signals the need to boost airflow indoors or stay outside whenever possible.

“It’s easy to say, ‘Open a window,'” said Smith. “But the reality is, when we start looking at mandating people to use HEPA filtration and everything, it’s on a different level. There are costs associated with that.”

So, it may be financially challenging for smaller businesses to address ventilation concerns. However, larger workplaces such as factories, which have been common sites for outbreaks, need to get to the root of their transmission problems and work with local public health officials to find solutions, Smith said.

“A store, for the most part, people are going in and out. They’re in there for a very short period of time, and at this point, are masked,” she said. “At a meat-packing plant, people are going to be working for eight hours a day and they’re often in close quarters.”

Improving ventilation is generally helpful, echoed Dr. Alex Wong, an infectious diseases physician in Regina. He said mask-wearing will also likely be a staple of daily life for months to come until more Canadians get vaccinated.

South of the border, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently eased indoor mask-wearing guidance for people who are fully vaccinated, allowing them to safely stop wearing masks inside in most spaces.

But Wong said since Canada’s rate of fully vaccinated individuals still lags behind the U.S., we’re not quite at that point yet, meaning face coverings remain a crucial tool to protect vulnerable individuals as more people start mingling and returning to workplaces.

“Masking continues to make a huge amount of sense in indoor, public spaces,” he said.

Shift away from surface-based precautions

What makes less sense, according to Murthy, is for businesses and individuals to skip those measures while overly relying on methods to prevent surface-based transmission, which most researchers agree isn’t a primary way people get infected.

“Way back when, when we were wiping down groceries or cleaning our fruit well to avoid COVID-19; we’ve learned a lot since then,” he sai

That focus on surfaces started early on, and included practices such as office buildings investing in regular cleanings, cashiers wiping down debit machines, and mandatory hand sanitizer at storefront entrances.

At this point, Murthy is among those unsure about just how many infections are being prevented through those methods, with some experts even dubbing the practices “hygiene theatre” — an approach that promotes a feeling of safety, more than it actually contributes to stopping virus transmission.

“Current evidence strongly suggests transmission from contaminated surfaces does not contribute substantially to new infections,” notes the latest guidance from the CDC.

According to Smith, there is a degree of fomite spread, but “it’s certainly much less than we initially thought.”

“Is handwashing important?” she said. “Yes, it still is.”

Many experts do recommend that step as a precaution to prevent people from getting infected after touching their face or mouth.

Still, Murthy stressed that businesses and individuals should focus more energy on maintaining adequate distancing and ventilation as regions start reopening, “rather than aggressively emphasizing hand-sanitizing at every entry point.”

Provinces at ‘different points’

As more Canadians become fully vaccinated, or even get one dose, there’s growing hope it will be easier to start lifting even the most stringent restrictions in the months ahead.

“If you’re gathering in a group with people who are fully vaccinated, certainly the risk is much less,” Smith said.

While Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, says provinces should only begin to lift public health restrictions once 75 per cent of adults have at least one vaccine dose — and 20 per cent are fully vaccinated — most provinces are moving at a quicker pace.

That’s no surprise to Wong, who said different regions are at different points, meaning there’s no universal, countrywide timeline for life to go back to normal.

In some Canadian regions, it’s already closer to business as usual with various non-essential industries up and running, while the provinces set to reopen soon are finally experiencing dropping case counts as vaccination rates rise.

Meanwhile, Manitoba is actually extending restrictions during its devastating third wave as the province’s ICUs keep filling up with COVID-19 patients, with some even being transferred to hospitals in Ontario.

“We’re all at very different points of our curve,” Wong said.

Source: https://www.cbc.ca/news/health/covid-provinces-reopening-precautions-1.6041638

Written by Lauren Pelley

We at SSE Care are proud to have the materials to support our community during these uncertain times.

 

We hope to continue being able to give back to the organizations that take such good care of our community.

 

 

SSE Care Solutions Inc. takes pride in being able to support our local community.

SSE Care Solutions Inc. had the greatest pleasure of donating 500,000 level 3 procedure masks to the Ministry of Children, Community, and Social Services. Working with MMP Lisa Thompson and MPP Billy Pang is an extremely gratifying experience we hope to continue.