Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday April 16, 2022

Ford wants masking in high-risk places, but optimistic wave has peaked

Premier Doug Ford said Thursday he would like to see mask mandates continue on transit, in hospitals and other high-risk locations in Ontario, but he is optimistic the current wave of the pandemic might have peaked based on wastewater data.

Both the premier and Health Minister Christine Elliott also repeated Thursday that Ontario’s hospital system has the capacity to handle any increase in cases related to the current pandemic wave.

That was the message the province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health gave to local public health officials who met with him late Wednesday to ask the province to take more action, such as mask mandates in schools, to reduce high rates of COVID-19 transmission across the province. The provincial government removed most pandemic restrictions last month and says there is no need to reinstate them.

In a statement, Ministry of Health spokesperson Alexandra Hilkene said science table modelling showing that hospital an ICU capacity will be lower than the previous wave, confirms that “Ontario has the tools and capacity to manage this wave of COVID-19 without imposing additional public health measures or reinstating a mask mandate.

But Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table and local public health officials are less optimistic that the worst of Wave 6 of the pandemic is over or that the health system has the capacity to handle it.

Tyson Graber, co-lead investigator of the COVID-19 wastewater project in Ottawa and associate scientist at the CHEO Research Institute, said it is too soon to say whether wastewater has peaked, especially with a holiday weekend coming up.

“I wouldn’t say this was a clear and present peak given the lack of public protections and increase in social activity,” he said. “Expect the wastewater signal in Ottawa and other parts of Ontario to be volatile in the coming days.”

In modelling released Thursday, the science table said hospital occupancy is expected to continue to rise for some time “with uncertainty in the timing and the height of the peak.” The science table also noted that infections in health-care workers are already as high as they were during the January Omicron wave when hospitals postponed some surgeries and procedures. Some hospitals in the province have struggled to deal with so many people off due to COVID-19 in recent days, as have schools and other businesses.

Ahead of the Easter weekend, Ford encouraged people to use common sense and to wear a mask indoors in crowds.

“I encourage everyone to be cautious when you are in a crowded room. Yes, put your mask on.” He added doing so is “up to each individual person.” (Ottawa Citizen) https://ottawacitizen.com/news/local-news/ford-wants-masking-in-high-risk-places-but-optimistic-wave-has-peaked

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