Ontario is about to extend mandatory masking on public transit, and in hospitals and nursing homes until May 25 as the province rides out a sixth wave of COVID-19.
Chief medical officer Dr. Kieran Moore told the Star he will recommend the government keep the protective measure in place for a month past its scheduled April 27 expiry.
“I’d anticipate that we continue the masking in those highest-risk settings where patients are vulnerable and older for four weeks,” Moore said in a telephone interview Thursday.
An announcement is expected next week.
Premier Doug Ford signalled earlier in the day that he would sign off on a longer masking period.
“I wouldn’t have a problem at all with that … I’d be happy to do it,” Ford said in Scarborough, where he again advised Ontarians to wear masks in any crowded indoor space now that the requirement for masking in most public settings has been lifted.
Moore urged Ontarians to be cautious over the Easter weekend because the virus is spreading “mostly” in social settings.
“Everyone should be screening every day” if they are going to gatherings, wearing masks around any vulnerable or elderly family members, and keep their COVID-19 vaccination status up to date, Moore said.
“Please mask around Granny and Grandpa,” he said.
He recommended socializing outdoors if possible, and to open windows when socializing indoors.
Meanwhile, Ontario’s science table of volunteer advisers released new modelling Thursday based on wastewater testing that suggested community transmission of COVID-19 may have plateaued.
Hospitalizations are expected to “continue to rise for some time” but should remain below peaks seen in the fifth wave which began before Christmas and continued into the New Year, the science table said, noting the BA.2 sub-variant of Omicron driving the sixth wave became dominant around March 10.
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Hospital staffing shortages from COVID-19 infections have reached the same high level as in the fifth wave, which is “stressing hospital operations,” contributing to staff burnout and hampering the ability to provide care to patients, the science table added in its presentation.
Moore said more protections are coming for those most vulnerable to COVID-19 with the arrival of a new drug, Evusheld, manufactured by AstraZeneca and approved Thursday by Health Canada.
Ontario will get 11,210 doses of the injectable monoclonal antibody treatment at the end of the month. It will be administered to “the most at-risk,” mainly transplant patients and people with blood malignancies, who will be contacted by their transplant and treatment centres.
“It’s up to six months’ protection,” Moore said, and can be given in addition to vaccinations.
The antiviral drug Paxlovid, which is mainly used for the elderly and immunosuppressed, is now available in more than 2,000 pharmacies across the province. Some 700 prescriptions were filled Wednesday, up from 40 to 50 a day previously, easing concerns that not enough people were getting it.
Paxlovid must be given during the first five days of symptoms and can reduce hospital admissions.
With the highly contagious BA.2 variant spreading widely, the science table recommended not relying on rapid antigen tests during the first three days of symptoms, and for anyone with signs of the virus to stay home and isolate.
“There’s always the risk for a false negative,” Moore said of the rapid tests, “but a positive can absolutely be considered a true positive.”
It takes two negative tests, done 24 hours apart with proper swabs of the mouth, throat and nose, to provide greater reassurance the virus has cleared.
There is also a lot of traditional influenza circulating now, Moore added.
Rob Ferguson is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @robferguson1
Kristin Rushowy is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @krushowy
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