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Ontario is bringing back mask mandates in long-term care. Here's what you should know

There have been thousands of COVID-19 cases confirmed in senior care facilities since the summer.

"The 360" shows you diverse perspectives on the day's top stories and debates.

This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Contact a qualified medical professional before engaging in any physical activity, or making any changes to your diet, medication or lifestyle.

A group of mouth masks laid in a pattern on a colored background
The new masking mandate is a response to rising numbers of COVID-19 cases. (Getty)

What are Ontario's new mask mandates?

As of Nov. 7, masking mandates are back in place for staff of Ontario's long-term care homes.

The CBC reported over the weekend that a Nov. 2 memo from the Ministry of Long-Term Care to LTC licensees said the requirement is based on advice from the province's chief medical officer of health Dr. Kieran Moore. All staff, including students, support workers and volunteers are mandated to wear a medical face mask when in resident areas indoors.

Masking is strongly recommended, though not mandated, to visitors and caregivers who enter the resident common areas.

"Recent trends have shown a moderate to high level of community transmission of COVID-19 and an increase in COVID-19 outbreaks in LTCHs, with an increased risk of hospitalization amongst residents," assistant deputy minister Kelly McAslan said in the memo, CBC reported.

According to CBC, McAslan "adds that the virus is projected to possibly peak in the next few weeks — around the same time that the flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) are expected to increase."


What's the current situation with COVID-19 in Ontario?

A recent surveillance report on COVID-19 among Ontario senior care facilities showed grim numbers. Since Aug. 27, there have been:

  • In long-term care homes:

    • 394 COVID-19 outbreaks

    • 7,157 cases among residents and staff

    • 181 hospitalizations

    • 106 deaths among residents

  • In retirement homes:

    • 302 COVID-19 outbreaks

    • 3,884 cases among residents and staff

    • 172 hospitalizations

    • 21 deaths among residents


Masking in other provinces

Some Canadian provinces have already made the move to require masking in healthcare settings and long term care facilities.

Nova Scotia's health authority made masks mandatory to enter its facilities in mid-October. This requirement included all common areas like hallways, elevators, staircases and cafeterias.

Health P.E.I. has also brought back mandatory for all staff working directly with patients.

B.C. began requiring masks on Oct. 3 for all "healthcare workers, visitors, contractors and volunteers in patient care areas in health care facilities, programs and services." This also includes visitors to long-term care homes.

In Manitoba, staff in hospitals, personal care homes and other healthcare facilities have had to wear face masks around patients since Oct. 18, the CBC reported.

Some Alberta hospitals have made similar requirements individually.

Though there are no federal mandates related to masking, Health Canada still recommends it. "We recommend that you wear a mask in public indoor settings. You should feel free to wear a mask even if it's not required in your community or setting."


Perspectives

Positive result shown on a Coronavirus rapid test over protective face masks. Symbol of safety measures during pandemic time Prevention of coronavirus infection.
Here's what experts and citizens have to say about masking. (Getty)

Masking an appropriate move

"While still every death is something that we should try and prevent, we're seeing far lower rates of fatalities. But we have to remember that many of these deaths remain preventable if we maintain masking during high rates of spread but also make sure that people are up-to-date with their vaccinations," Dr. Samir Sinha, director of geriatrics at Sinai Health System in Toronto, told CBC.

Ageism plays a role

"I don’t think it's inevitable. I think we need to do better. It's a shame we have been brainwashed into thinking dying of an infectious disease is inevitable. These are not good deaths. I feel strongly we have to do better and provide people with a better quality of life in their final years," said immunologist Dawn Bowdish, to the Ottawa Citizen.

Masks protect you and others

"The mask does two things: it prevents you from inhaling the virus and it prevents you from spreading it... You are contagious until your rapid tests turn negative and therefore you should wear a mask, especially if you're going to be around other people," Dr. Donald Vinh, an infectious diseases specialist at McGill University Health Centre, explained to Yahoo Canada.

"We did see significant reductions of flu acquisition based on hospital admissions last year... We see it in other parts of the world, whether it be Asia or other countries where, during certain peaks of diseases, there is some benefit in masking, not only to the individual but the community at large," Dr. Nitin Mohan, a physician epidemiologist at Western University’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry told the National Post.

People should do better

"I got tired of wearing a mask, but when I looked at my mother I thought: 'This is keeping her safe.'... It's the difference between somebody dying and somebody living. When you are dealing with a vulnerable population, I think you have to go the extra mile," the Ottawa Citizen heard from Betty Yakimenko, a former caregiver for her late mother.