By Pam Wright
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Barring an unusual COVID-19 outbreak, Chatham-Kent Public Health will move in lockstep with Ontario’s mask mandates.
Medical officer of health Dr. David Colby told a weekly municipal media scrum the municipality will “remain in alignment” with provincial rules.
“I can’t imagine that I would do anything differently,” Colby said, noting there would have to be a “real surprise” such as a widespread local outbreak.
The wearing masks in public places will remain in place until the Ministry of Health officially lifts the mandate. The government hasn’t yet hinted when it will lift the compulsory wearing of masks in public.
It’s unknown when that will occur, but the rate of new cases of the virus and hospitalizations signals a steep decline in the number of infections.
For the time being, masking will continue for students at the public and Catholic school boards, with both organizations following identical public health policies in Chatham-Kent and Lambton County.
St. Clair Catholic District School Board director of education Scott Johnson told reporters the board will be “piggybacking” on public health policy, as it does not have the authority to alter masking mandates.
When the vaccine passport requirement ended March 1, unvaccinated students rejoined their vaccinated classmates to play sports.
At the Chatham-Kent Health Alliance, there are no imminent changes in COVID-19 protocols. Hospital president and CEO Lori Marshall said all staff, visitors and volunteers will still be required to be fully vaccinated, meaning they have been immunized with two doses of the vaccine.
“We’re not making any changes at this stage,” Marshall said.
The municipality is also shying away from making any immediate changes to its COVID-19 policies.
CAO Don Shropshire said pandemic policies will stay in place until at least the end of March.
When it comes to lifting COVID-19 restrictions, Shropshire said the changes are receiving “mixed reviews” from staff.
“Some are seeing it as a sign of relief while others are anxious,” Shropshire said.
The virus is continuing to impact the municipality’s workforce, he added, with 47 employees either sick or isolating due to exposure.
Chatham-Kent council has already rescinded the mask mandate at the municipal level, ensuring local masking ends the minute the province changes the rule.