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‘The pandemic’s not over’: No need for mask mandate despite rise in COVID-19 numbers, says Toronto’s public health chief


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‘The pandemic’s not over’: No need for mask mandate despite rise in COVID-19 numbers, says Toronto’s public health chief

Toronto’s public health chief says it’s not necessary to reinstate mask rules and other pandemic restrictions to halt COVID-19’s resurgence across the city.

“We had expected, as more and more people were going to be interacting with each other, that we would see more COVID-19 activity,” and infections are indeed again rising, Dr. Eileen de Villa said Monday at a pop-up vaccination clinic.

The “sixth wave” of the virus started after city council cancelled, at her recommendation, some restrictions, including mandatory masking in indoor public spaces ahead of schedule to be in sync with provincial reopening plans.

Masks continue to be required on transit, including the TTC, and in high-risk settings such as long-term-care homes until at least April 27.

De Villa didn’t deny relaxed restrictions contributed to the infections many Torontonians are reporting but said residents now have “layers of protection” — including vaccination, mask use and staying home when sick — they can choose to use.

“At the time I made my recommendations it was all informed by the data in front of us, and by the tools and the knowledge that we had in front of us,” de Villa told reporters at the clinic held in the TTC’s Union Station.

“To my mind mandates, regulations — these things were meant to be temporary and now, at this point in time, knowing that we have knowledge and tools available to us, it is actually up to all of us collectively and at the individual level to use those tools to great effect,” she told reporters at the Union Station clinic.

“We’ve done it before. I don’t see any reason why we can’t do it again,” she said, “strongly” urging residents to wear face coverings as long as virus levels are increasing.

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Some COVID-19 experts questioned the end of mask rules, especially in schools, given that increased indoor dining and other mingling would boost infections and the province halted widespread testing that can most precisely gauge virus spread.

In Ontario on Monday, COVID-19 hospitalizations were up 38 per cent from a week earlier. New infections confirmed through limited PCR testing had risen by more than one-quarter, while wastewater data also suggests a new virus wave.

Toronto Public Health’s most recent data shows the local seven-day average for new daily infections started accelerating in late March after a sustained drop. Hospitalizations have also started rising.

While de Villa expressed confidence in Torontonians’ ability to use voluntary precautions to curb virus spread, she said she is concerned that many Torontonians with two vaccinations have not yet rolled up their sleeves for a third.

Some 89 per cent of Torontonians aged 12 or older have received at least two immunizations against the virus. But that number drops to 56 per cent for booster doses.

With Mayor John Tory, she announced a push on booster shots given by pharmacists in parts of Toronto with below-average vaccination rates as well as by family doctors and at targeted pop-up clinics including at TTC stations.

De Villa noted that people with three vaccinations have better protection against catching the virus and, if infected, less chance of serious illness or death.

“The pandemic’s not over,” she said, urging everyone — especially older people most at risk of serious illness — to ensure they are as fully vaccinated as possible.

David Rider is the Star’s City Hall bureau chief and a reporter covering city hall and municipal politics. Follow him on Twitter: @dmrider

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