Dr. Eileen de Villa made the comments during an announcement in Toronto on Monday, regarding third doses of COVID-19 vaccines.
The province-wide mask mandate was lifted earlier this month in most public spaces except in “high-risk” areas including medical facilities, long-term care homes and other congregate living situations and on public transit.
The mandate for the remaining public spaces is set to be lifted later this month.
De Villa said while masks are no longer mandated in most public spaces, individuals can still choose to wear one.
“And I encourage you to do so,” she said. “Wear the best quality mask that you have access to, and ensure that it fits well.”
De Villa said wearing a mask is a “simple thing that we can all do.”
“Especially if you’re older, have older people in your life, have a serious health condition or are simply indoors with people you don’t know,” she said.
Increase in COVID-19 cases ‘not unexpected’ in Ontario: Elliott
De Villa said while the mandates were supposed to be temporary, individuals are now armed with tools, including masking and vaccines, to help protect themselves against the virus.
She said with “relatively higher, increased activity” of COVID-19 in the community, those who have symptoms should stay home and isolate “to the greatest extent possible, so as to reduce the spread of the disease in the city.”
“For the rest of us, clearly, it means monitoring ourselves for signs and symptoms, making sure that we’re taking advantage of vaccine and wearing our masks as much as possible at this point in time,” she said.
“I think we have the tools and knowledge available to us at this point to really help see our way through regardless of what decisions are taken by the province.”
De Villa said it’s important to understand that the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t over.
“So we should anticipate that there will be times in the future where we will see rises in activity,” she said. “And we will have to pull out our tools and use the layers of protection in order to protect ourselves and those around us.”
She said the sixth wave is “not a surprise,” adding that another spike in cases will likely occur again in the future.
“And we will be called upon to use those layers of protection,” she said. “But the good news is that we’ve done this before, and I have every reason to believe that we can do this again and do it successfully.”
COVID-19: Ford says he doesn’t think Ontario removed mask mandate too quickly
De Villa’s comments come as the province announced 857 people were in hospital with COVID-19, and 168 were receiving treatment for the virus in an intensive care unit on Monday.
While more stringent testing rules mean it is unclear exactly how many cases of the virus the province is now seeing, experts have cautioned that Ontario is now experiencing a sixth wave of the pandemic.
Data released on March 17 by the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table said the province’s wastewater signal had stopped declining and was increasing slightly. The data also showed the province’s test positivity rate had stopped declining.
Some experts are now calling for the mask mandate to be reinstated.
However, Ontario’s Health Minister Christine Elliott said the province will be “staying the course” on its decision to lift the mask mandate.
“We’re staying the course. We don’t anticipate that we’ll need to move back to mandatory masking,” she said at a funding announcement in North York on Friday. “Except in certain locations where it is mandatory, most of it is discretionary.”
Elliott said the province anticipated there would be an uptick in cases after the restrictions were lifted.
“But what we have now that we didn’t have before is a highly-vaccinated population,” she said. “We also have antivirals and there are other tools that we have that we didn’t have before.”
Ontario Premier Doug Ford echoed Elliott’s remarks at a separate announcement in Oshawa on Monday, saying the province is seeing a “little spike” in COVID-19, but that hospitals are “in good shape right now” to handle it.
“We’ve also built up hospital capacity 3,100 acute care beds — we’re better prepared,” Ford told reporters. “We have the antiviral pills from Pfizer that we have now, over 100,000 of them.”
Ford said his government is going to “continue to be cautious,” adding that he is following the advice of the province’s chief medical officer.
“But our hospitals are in good shape right now,” he said. “We expected a little spike; we said that over last month. But again, that little spike, we’re being able to manage it.”
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