Since July 2020, wearing a face mask has been required to enter any indoor space in Ontario. After more than 20 months, the Ontario government is ending face mask mandates in most places on March 21. Masks are still mandatory for hospitals, long-term care homes, and congregate living spaces, but only until April 27.
At that future point, should COVID-19 infections continue to trend downward, all mask wearing and most public health restrictions due to the pandemic will end in Ontario. Provincial Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore said during his March 9 announcement that we are at the point that we have learned to live with COVID.
It is questionable to remove the mask mandate in schools days after the week-long March Break holiday when more people plan to travel. Medical experts including Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto have objected to ending mandates in schools. Ontario is not the first to ditch mask mandates, but it is following other provinces in doing so.
Going to work, to school, or out to shop and dine now means that you have the choice to wear a face mask to protect yourself and others from spreading the virus, or not. At one end of the spectrum, the move to end the mask wearing mandate is freedom personified – at the other end it instills fear and anxiety. This is especially true for those who are immunocompromised, handicapped, or otherwise fall into the category of being at the highest-risk of severe outcomes from contracting this still deadly virus.
Ontario and its 34 public health units are still monitoring for spikes in COVID-19 infections and for future variants. Those numbers may push mandates back into effect on either a regional or province-wide basis. Viruses are not affected by the proclamations of government officials.
The end of (most) mask mandates and public health restrictions is akin to taking the training wheels off when riding a bike. While many are ready to take this next step, there are those who are not ready – and there are those who still find some comfort in exercising their own preference of keeping masks on. To that, Moore offered the best public health prescription – kindness and consideration. We need to be kind to each other, and to those who choose to still wear a mask or observe other public health guidance. And we need to be considerate of those who want to protect themselves in the way they wish.
We saw acts of kindness throughout the two years of this pandemic, but that has waned in recent months. Let’s remember this prescription as Ontarians take these next steps into the new normal.