Ontario lifting indoor mask mandate for most settings on March 21

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Come March 21, wearing a mask indoors in most settings including malls, bars, gyms, cinemas and schools will be an individual choice.

The provincial government announced today that it will be removing indoor mask mandates in a variety of public spaces on March 21.

Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore said the requirement is being lifted as “key public health indicators continue to improve or remain stable” and the province now knows how to deal with the virus.

“With continued improvement in trends, Ontario will remove the mandatory masking requirement for most settings on March 21, with the exception of select settings such as public transit, health care settings, long-term care homes and congregate care settings,” Moore announced.

He also asked for consideration and respect for those Ontarians who choose to continue wearing a mask indoors.

“As a society, we must remain kind, considerate and respectful toward those who continue wearing a mask,” Moore told reporters at a press conference.

Opposition parties and teacher unions are unhappy with the province’s timeline for making indoor masking optional in schools.

“Given Ontario’s reopening and March Break, it makes sense to wait at least two weeks after the end of the break to review those indicators and make a decision for Ontario schools,” said Ontario Liberal Party Leader Steven Del Duca.

He pointed out that Premier Ford had gone against the advice of the province’s science table, and against the direct advice of the experts at SickKids, Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, the Children’s Hospital at London Health Sciences, and McMaster Children’s Hospital.

“I simply do not accept the argument that our kids’ schools are not higher-risk areas and essential, and the experts agree. We must wait a couple more weeks to make sure our kids will be safe,” stated Del Duca.

The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) is worried about the impact on school staff, students and their families.

“Throughout the pandemic, Ontarians have relied on public health officials to lead with a science- and evidence-based approach. Unfortunately, it appears that a fast-approaching June election is influencing politicians’ decisions to lift COVID-19 safety measures,” ETFO President Karen Brown said in a media statement. “Lifting the mask mandate too soon may result in further disruption to in-person learning and negative impacts on the health and safety of ETFO members, students, and their families.”

ETFO cited a number of concerns including crowded classrooms, air quality issues, unknown COVID-19 case counts in schools, and only a 55 per cent first-dose vaccination rate among elementary students five to 11.

“These children are in Ontario schools right now and they deserve to be protected, as do their families and the school staff who support them,” noted Brown.

The Ontario government expects to remove masking requirements in all remaining settings from April 27. After this date, masks will not be mandatory but will be encouraged and highly recommended for those who are immunocompromised, at high risk, or who choose to still use them.

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