MONTREAL — Quebec appeared on Monday to be the only province poised to buck the Canadian trend and extend its mask mandate, as experts said face coverings are still an effective tool in limiting the transmission of COVID-19.
Currently, only Quebec, Prince Edward Island and Nunavut still require masks to be worn in public places, with the latter two set to end their mandates by next week.
Quebec’s acting director of public health said Radio-Canada Sunday that, as the province battles a sixth wave of COVID-19, he is “seriously considering” recommending that masking remain mandatory beyond the scheduled end of mid-April. Premier Francois Legault said a decision would be announced on Tuesday, following a Monday night meeting between government and health officials.
Hospitalizations related to COVID-19 in the province, which had fallen below 1,000 in mid-March, have increased steadily in recent days, reaching more than 1,400 on Monday.
Other provinces have resisted calls to extend or reimpose public health restrictions, even as cases have increased in some parts of the country.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford said Monday that his province, which has seen a week-long increase of 30% in hospitalizations, can handle what he described as a “small spike” in COVID- 19. Ford said a combination of increased hospital capacity and the advent of antiviral drugs has left the province better prepared.
“We expected a small spike,” Ford said. “We’ve been saying that for the past few months, but this little spike, we’re able to handle it.”
The Ford government has previously said it has no plans to reimpose public health restrictions.
Two experts who spoke to The Canadian Press said that while masking cannot completely stop a wave of COVID-19, it is still one of the best defenses to cut off transmission and protect the wearer and those affected. surround.
Parisa Ariya, a McGill chemistry professor and aerosol expert, said there are “hundreds” of studies that have shown masks are successful in reducing transmission. Although effectiveness varies, she said, these studies have shown that the ability to filter the virus ranges from around 50% for three-layer cloth masks to more than 90% for high-end models. .
“A lot of good masks actually work better than some of the Chinese vaccines that were up to 50% good,” she said in a phone interview on Monday. “A very good mask can reach more than 80%, so it is very good protection.”
She said there’s a simple reason masks work against COVID-19, including the most recent mutations. “The great weakness of the virus is the fact that, it’s a physical thing, it’s matter” that can be blocked by a physical barrier, she said.
Almost all Canadian provinces have removed mask mandates for public spaces in recent weeks, although some have maintained order for school children or on public transport.
Despite maintaining its mask mandate, Quebec was the first province to declare a sixth wave of COVID-19, and the province has seen a worrying increase in hospitalizations.
Ariya says many factors go into the transmission of COVID-19, including environmental factors, how the virus changes, precautions taken, and host characteristics. Throughout the pandemic, different regions experienced different waves differently, she said.
“In Quebec, for example, you get higher numbers, but there’s no reason every place should be the same,” she said.
“At the same time, that doesn’t mean the place that’s down right now won’t get it, and we’ve seen it six times.”
She also noted that while Quebec has maintained a mask rule in public places, the province has allowed people without masks to congregate in bars and restaurants and removed capacity limits in public places. While masking “isn’t a solution to everything, it’s one of the best we have,” she said.
Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease expert at the University of Toronto, agreed that “masking isn’t going to stop a wave” – but he said that doesn’t mean it’s not helpful.
“It can lessen the impact of a surge, protect the individual mask wearer and, if enough people wear them, help protect those more vulnerable to COVID in high-risk indoor settings,” he said. wrote in an email on Monday.
Calls were made on Monday to restore continued mask-wearing for children in New Brunswick schools, which lifted its mandate in mid-March. A group of 19 pediatricians in the province said in an open letter that COVID-19 is an airborne virus and that masking and vaccination have been shown to be effective in reducing transmission and severity of infection.
Doctors said that since the preschool population is not currently eligible for vaccination, they recommend returning to continuous indoor masking for child care staff for the remainder of the school year.
The New Brunswick Medical Society has also called for the reinstatement of mask mandates in schools and daycares.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on April 4, 2022.
— With files from Kevin Bissett in Fredericton and Allison Jones in Toronto.
Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press
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