By Bird Bouchard
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The Ridgetown Independent
The end of masking in public settings will soon be upon us.
Provincial chief medical officer Dr. Kieran Moore announced recently that as of March 21, Ontarians would no longer be required to wear a mask indoors in most public settings.
However, this will not apply to high-risk settings such as hospitals, congregate care settings, long-term care, as well as public transit.
“Removing the mask mandate does not mean the risk is gone,” said Moore.
He added the province is moving from a mandate to a choice to wear a mask. Moore added masks can still help limit virus transmission and are still encouraged in some situations.
Premier Doug Ford said he believes the time is right, based on recommendations from Moore.
“It’s going to be up to the people of Ontario. If you want to keep your mask on, keep it on. If you want to take it off, take it off,” said Ford. “We have to move forward from this, people are exhausted, and the poor kids in those classrooms too, we have to move on.”
Dr. David Colby, Chatham-Kent’s medical officer of health, also supported the decision.
“Chatham-Kent will be following the provincial lead on this and not taking its own course,” he said.
While he supports the decision to move forward, Colby admitted he wishes there was more time to examine the “previous dispensing of restrictions,” such as gathering limits.
“That being said, I’m not particularly concerned about the cessation of masking,” he added. “Because things like vaccination and physical distancing, which are no longer mandated in so many settings, are more important than that.”
Colby said he still expects many people and organizations will continue to use precautions as they see fit.
According to CKHA President and CEO Lori Marshall, she anticipates hospitals across the province will be working together to develop consistent policies. She emphasized that there is no change at either CKHA site regarding mandatory masks at this stage.
Marshall said it’s too early to identify if mandatory masking at the hospitals in Chatham-Kent will change at the end of April.
“Please make sure that if you’re coming to visit at the hospital that you understand that masking is still required at this stage,” said Marshall.
Several notable changes are also coming to schools across the municipality.
Masks will be optional for schools and school buses beginning March 21.
Lambton-Kent District School Board Education Director John Howitt said cohorting would also be gone after the March Break along with physical distancing. He added it’s understandable and acceptable if people still want to wear masks in the classroom and on buses.
“We will fully recognize there will be students and staff whose comfort level will have them continuing to wear masks, and they are perfectly welcome to do so,” said Howitt.
He clarified there are a couple of exceptions that require mandatory masking.
He said those who are exposed to COVID-19 and those returning from international travel must wear masks and follow all of the provincial and federal COVID-19 rules.