The mask mandate will end across the province Monday, leaving residents and business owners free to make their own choices in Niagara-on-the-Lake and across the province.
And although Dr. Mustafa Hirji, the region’s acting chief medical officer, has made it clear he believes it’s too soon to offer that choice, there is no plan for an order to continue making them mandatory in Niagara.
“We disagree with the province’s decision to end mandatory masking, and believe it should have aligned with when the infections from COVID-19 were much lower and the risk to the community was much less,” he said in a statement last week.
“We agree with the province that wearing masks is a recommended practice to protect oneself and those around us. We encourage everyone to wear masks past March 21, and support organizations who wish to continue with masking policies
to protect their customers and staff.”
With the lifting of the mask mandate taking effect Monday, as students return to school after their March break, Hirji said public health would review the announcement and discuss “how we might act going forward. With respect to a section 22 order, a decision on one would need to be based on local COVID-19 trends closer to March 21 when it might come into effect.”
“We are currently not planning such an order,” he added, “but will continually reassess the situation as we approach March 21 and beyond.”
Dr. Azim Kasmani, the region’s associate medical officer of health, told The Local Tuesday “at this time there is no plan” to continue a mask mandate in Niagara. “It wouldn’t make sense to adjust the provincial mandate just for Niagara,” he said, and he hasn’t seen any indication that other jurisdictions are considering it.
However, “there is always the potential for a rebound” of cases, and if, through monitoring results of wastewater testing, hospitalizations and intensive care admissions, that seems to be the case, that could change, he said.
Although there are school boards across the province which are continuing to require the wearing of masks in school, Kasmani said public health hasn’t had any discussions with local school boards, and it would be up to the boards if that was their intention — they wouldn’t require regional
Lord Mayor Betty Disero is encouraging people to make their own decisions, and to “wear a mask if they feel a risk at all, or if they feel uncomfortable in a public place. The mask mandate is being dropped, but that doesn’t mean you can’t continue to wear one.”
She has heard some businesses might continue to require them, and asks people to be kind to anyone who makes a decision to continue wearing one.
“The pandemic isn’t over. As in other municipalities, we’re just following the province on this,” she said.
When the mask mandate is removed Monday, people coming to the town hall will no longer be expected to wear a mask, but to just check the passive screening signs on the door.
As the mask restriction is lifted, there is a high rate of immunity across Niagara, with a large number of people vaccinated, Kasmani says, but he continues to encourage those who haven’t had a first, second or third dose to get those shots.
Novavax, one of the more traditional vaccinations that is not an mNRA, is now approved and available, he said, and that could encourage people who have avoided vaccinations so far to reconsider.
It is available in the region, and to find out where, call to the COVID-19 Info-Line at 905-688-8248 or 1-888-505-6074, press 7, during the hours of 8:30 a.m. to 4:15 p.m.
The other piece of good news, he added, is that there are at least two new medications approved to help those who are infected with COVID, and that could reduce the risk of serious illness and hospitalization. There are many factors to determine whether they are appropriate for patients with specific medical issues, so the first step, he said, is for anyone with early symptoms to contact their physician to make that determination. If they are candidates, they would be referred to a regional assessment clinic.