Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore is now ‘strongly recommending’ that Ontarians resume masking in all public indoor settings amid what he is calling a “triple threat” of respiratory viruses – RSV, flu and COVID-19.
But he is stopping short of reintroducing a mask mandate for now and is instead placing the onus on individuals to do their part to protect the most vulnerable among us.
He is also calling on Ontarians to get their flu shots and take other precautions, such as screening for respiratory symptoms before attending work or school and practicing good hand hygiene.
Here is what you need to know about Moore’s latest advice:
Ontarians should take extra precautions, especially when around children
Moore says that Ontarians need to understand that “what might be a cold to you can lead to a severe respiratory infection in a child four and under.” For that reason, he says that parents need to be particularly careful if they are displaying any respiratory symptoms, even if it is just a runny nose. Asked specifically if that meant masking in the home, Moore said that it does.
“I am sorry but yes, you should,” he said. “You should be doing good hand hygiene, cleaning surfaces and masking as best as you can to decrease the risk to that child. You have to remember with respiratory symptoms, they can be minor for an adult or an older member of our community but they can be major for a child under four in particular.”
Do younger children need to wear masks?
Ontario’s since expired mask mandate applied to all children above the age of two but Moore’s advice on Monday allowed for some interpretation. He said children ages two to five should wear masks in indoor public settings but only “if they can tolerate the mask and safely put it on and off.”
Social settings a particular concern
Moore says that Ontarians should be masking in indoor public settings in an attempt to protect the healthcare system but as the weather gets colder he said that he is particularly concerned about potential viral spread within social settings when children are present. He said he has been told that at the Hospital for Sick Children, about half of the kids who are currently on ventilators in the intensive care unit have RSV while the other half have Influenza.
“This isn't COVID that's affecting our children, although it obviously can. It's RSV and Influenza combined that are driving our children to have to be admitted to hospitals and we do have the tools at our disposal that can help protect our children and help protect our families,” he said. “My concern is that this is spreading in families and in social situations outside of the large public venues and it really comes down to families, grandparents, parents and siblings protecting the most vulnerable and youngest in our communities.”
He also said “we are discussing that and reviewing that as a potential (measure)” when asked about possibly introducing a mask mandate for schools.
Will Moore consider mandating masking in some settings?
Moore was asked specifically about requiring that daycare workers wear masks around children and said that he would “absolutely consider” issuing an order to that effect if deemed necessary. But he also acknowledged that prior mandates, particularly as they applied to social settings, weren’t always effective.
“I think we have to educate, educate, educate. That is the basic premise of our public health communication at present,” he said. “I don't know if all parents realize that a common cold to them is a serious and severe respiratory illness to someone four and under and we need to get that message across, that any respiratory illness in our battle right now can be RSV or influenza. They all have very similar early symptoms and that can transmit to our children.”
What about infants?
Moore said that given the risk posed by RSV, it is particularly important to keep babies away from anyone with cold symptoms “if possible.” If contact can’t be avoided, he said that anyone with symptoms should wear a mask around the baby.
“Older children, siblings, parents and adults can easily pass on the infection to high risk children through close contact. That is why if possible it is important to keep babies away from people with any cold symptoms,” he warned. “Keeping our children, babies especially, away from crowds will also help minimize the possibility of infection.”