In a release on Wednesday afternoon, Hamilton Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) chair Dawn Danko says their governors will be meeting Thursday to review the province’s move and assess the future of a local mask measure for its younger students.
“At HWDSB, the Board of Trustees previously approved a motion that includes mask-wearing for students in Kindergarten to Grade 3,” Danko said.
“Trustees will review the motion, the direction from the province and share further details as soon as possible.”
Currently both of Hamilton’s public school systems require masking for all students up to Grade 12 inside their facilities, unless exempt for medical or human rights causes.
Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, revealed the mask ramp-down on Wednesday saying the move is another step in how the province can “live and manage COVID-19.”
Masking in all remaining settings, as well as any other provincial COVID directives and orders, will dissolve on April 27.
Masks will not be mandatory but are encouraged and highly recommended for those who are immunocompromised, at high risk, or choose to still use them, according to Moore.
“And anyone who wants to wear a mask … they’re more than welcome to. It’s going to be up to the people,” Premier Doug Ford said Wednesday at an unrelated news conference in Brantford, Ont., just minutes before Moore was set to speak.
Quebec lifted its mandatory masking for elementary and high school students on Monday.
Students are not required to wear masks while seated in class, but the mandate still applies in common areas of elementary and high schools, while students are circulating and on school buses.
The scientific director of Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table told Global News after the Wednesday announcement he would have liked to have waited “just a little bit longer” for masking measures to be lifted from the province’s public schools.
Dr. Peter Juni said it would have been helpful to have seen how things played out in Quebec before withdrawing masks in Ontario.
“So it will be very interesting to see, do they have a bumpy road that opens up in front of them or does it go relatively smoothly?” Juni said.
“This could have helped inform our own decision making.”
Moore also announced that other COVID measures in schools, such as cohorting and daily on-site screening, will also be lifted after March 21.
Hamilton public health ‘reviewing’ province’s mask announcement
Hamilton’s associate medical officer of health Dr. Ninh Tran, covering for the absent Dr. Elizabeth Richardson, told Global News public health is “cautiously optimistic” about the province’s announcement but is still evaluating the measure from a city perspective.
“The city of Hamilton is currently reviewing today’s announcement from the chief medical officer … on the removal of mandatory masking requirements and implication on settings come March 21,” said Tran in an email.
“The city and public health services will provide more updates in the coming days.”
Hamilton’s chief medical officer of health does have the ability to impose additional restrictions above what is set by the province, and the city of Hamilton has its own face-covering bylaw. It’s unclear what will happen locally with masking guidance.
During his Brantford stop on Wednesday, Premier Ford said local medical officers of health who want to implement their own mask mandates in their specific regions will have to go through Moore.
Dr. Juni told Global News he “didn’t know” if the March 21 date was the “right time” to lift the mandate.
Juni said he’s accustomed to “data-driven decisions” and feels it could be safe assuming the current estimated 15,000 to 20,000 daily COVID infections “don’t go up.”
“I would have preferred if that time point of the decision to lift mask mandates would have been directly related to us having enough situational awareness about where we are in this pandemic after the last opening step that happened on the first of March,” said Juni.
During a briefing in late February, Hamilton’s COVID emergency operations team hinted that city bylaws requiring face coverings in indoor settings would remain for some time despite the province’s reviewing of mask mandates.
Mayor Fred Eisenberger said masks would be around “for a while” since the Omicron variant has been pressuring Hamilton’s hospital system.
“I’d like nothing more than to have all of these restrictions go, but we don’t want to throw away two years of effort to protect people in our community,” Eisenberger said in the update.
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