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Dr. Hirji reminds Niagara of importance of masks, joins peers in open letter to Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health

Dr. Mustafa Hirji,  Medical Officer of Health (Acting) for Niagara Region is reminding Niagara residents of the importance and effectiveness of mask-wearing during the current wave of COVID-19, as cases remain high.
 
Dr. Hirji also continues to advocate to the provincial government for a temporary return of broad mask requirements in indoor settings. He has joined the medical officers of health of Peterborough Public Health and Windsor-Essex County Health Unit in writing an open letter to the Chief Medical Officer of Health to broaden his new section 22 order on masking.
 
Wastewater data from the Ontario Science Table shows that transmission has remained stubbornly high since mid-April. Hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients in Niagara are hitting new highs in this wave, and local hospitalizations for the past three weeks have been close to the peaks of the second and third waves.
 
Unmeasured are the children missing school due to isolation, adults missing work due to exposure, employers struggling to operate due to COVID-19 related absenteeism, and people suffering from long COVID-19.

In addition to calling for a temporary provincial mask requirement, Dr. Hirji is also urging all residents of Niagara to continue to wear masks voluntarily in indoor spaces around others to help us beat back this wave. Masks enable us to return to our pre-pandemic activities with much less risk of getting sick or harming others. Dr. Hirji also continues to recommend all organizations maintain their masking policies during this time of high transmission.
 
Everyone is also reminded that masks are already required by the province in
  • Public transit
  • Health care settings
  • Long-term care and retirement homes
  • Congregate care settings
Masks are also still required for those who are
  • Infected with COVID-19 but are on day 6-10 of their infection and have been released from self-isolation
  • A contact of a confirmed case but are not required to isolate
For businesses and organizations who still wish to continue with masking in indoor spaces Public Health has signage available that can be printed and used.
 
***
 
May 4, 2022

 

 
Dr. Kieran Michael Moore, MD, CCFP(EM), FCFP, MPH, DTM&H, FRCPC, FCAHS
Chief Medical Officer of Health, Ontario
 
Dear Dr. Moore,
 
We are writing today to commend you for your leadership last week to exercise your powers under section 77.1 of the Health Protection & Promotion Act to issue a province-wide section 22 order to continue mask requirements in several high-risk settings. We think this was absolutely the right decision.
We are also writing to you today to recommend that you build on this action. Specifically, to temporarily broaden the mask requirements in Ontario to include indoor public spaces such as workplaces, schools, college and universities, as well as essential service settings (such as grocery stores and pharmacies). Like you, we had hoped that as masking and other protections ceased to be requirements, that we would be able to get through this wave without much suffering or long-term disruption. Unfortunately, this does not seem to have played out as we had hoped.
 
The Ontario Science Table has reported persistently high amounts of COVID-19 in the wastewater, as a key marker of transmission. Consistent with this, in each of our respective health units, we continue to see significant impacts that are not relenting. In Peterborough Public Health region, we see hospitalizations of persons with COVID-19 recently exceeding any previous wave. In Niagara, for the past 3 weeks, hospitalizations have remained equivalent to the peaks of wave two and three, requiring our main hospital system to ramp down surgeries to 70%. On Monday this week, our overstretched hospital systems had 100 patients admitted, but without a bed.
 
The COVID-19 pandemic has clearly had a disproportionate impact on the individuals and communities with the worst social determinants of health. The current persistently high transmission of COVID-19 is exacerbating inequalities in our society. This subjects those with inequities to more infections, more hospitalizations, more isolation from work and school, more lost income due to isolation, and more risk of long-term disability with Post-Acute COVID Syndrome (aka Long COVID).
 
Masks can help mitigate this suffering and exacerbation of health inequities. The US CDC has reported masking, with an N95 or equivalent, may provide protection to an 83% reduction in odds of infection. This provides similar reduction in infection to what vaccines had pre-Omicron. Furthermore, evidence synthesized by PHO has identified no evidence of harms with masking. We believe this evidence should receive consideration.
 
The return of masking could help protect those with inequities and vulnerabilities, relieve the pressures on our hospitals, and most importantly protect the health of the people we serve.
 
Respectfully,
 
Dr. M. Mustafa Hirji, Medical Officer of Health & Commissioner (Acting), Niagara Region Public Health & Emergency Services
Dr. Shanker Nesathurai, Acting Medical Officer of Health, Windsor-Essex County Health Unit
Dr. Thomas Piggott, Medical Officer of Health and CEO, Peterborough Public Health

 

Media Inquiries

Courtney Westerhof
Niagara Region Public Health
905-688-8248 ext. 7303
courtney.westerhof@niagararegion.ca

Andrew Korchok
Niagara Region Public Health
905-329-1642
andrew.korchok@niagararegion.ca


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