Ottawa's top doctor says 'widespread mask use' is no longer required in the community
Ottawa's medical officer of health says widespread mask use in the community is no longer required, as OC Transpo prepares to lift its mandatory mask requirements this weekend.
Ontario's chief medical officer of health announced that most remaining COVID-19 mask mandates will be lifted on Saturday, including masking requirements on public transit. Masks will continue to be required in long-term care and retirement homes.
Late Wednesday afternoon, OC Transpo announced masks will no longer be mandatory on OC Transpo buses, the O-Train and in stations starting on Saturday.
Medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches is "strongly recommending" you continue to wear a mask on public transit and in transit stations, but no longer believes masks should be mandatory for everyone.
"Writing as the Medical Officer of Health, I am no longer of the opinion that widespread mask use in the community is required," Dr. Etches said in a memo to council late Wednesday afternoon.
"Nonetheless, because the current COVID-19 surge is not resolved and future surges are anticipated, and given the non-discretionary nature of public transit for many residents and the fact that maintaining physical distancing on transit vehicles can be difficult and, at times impossible, Ottawa Public Health strongly recommends that mask use continue on public transit and in transit stations and supports OC Transpo to continue strategies to support and promote mask use at this time."
The Transit Commission voted to make masks mandatory on OC Transpo buses, the O-Train and in transit stations as of June 15, 2020. The motion stated widespread mask use would remain in effect until the medical officer of health says it is no longer required.
OC Transpo general manager Renee Amilcar told council the lifting of the mask mandate for OC Transpo will apply to passengers and employees.
"While wearing a mask will no longer be required by law, OC Transpo continues to follow Ottawa Public Health’s advice and strongly encourages people to wear masks on buses and trains, Para Transpo minibuses and taxis, and in stations and shelters. We ask everyone to be kind and respectful of one another," Amilcar said.
Mayor Jim Watson is encouraging people to continue to wear masks on public transit and in other enclosed spaces.
"When I'm on the bus or the train for the foreseeable future, I'll continue to wear a mask," Watson said after council. "It's just added precaution."
Some transit riders will still wear a mask after the mandate ends on Saturday.
"I'm still going to continue to take the bus even if some people's choices don't necessarily make me ultra comfortable," Christine Kirkland said. "I still believe in the effectiveness of masks to prevent the continued spread of COVID-19."
Julian Moran says he will keep his mask on.
"Buses kind of have a reputation of being a diseased cesspool. So, I’ve got my mask. I’m going to wear it."
Etches says Ottawa's COVID-19 monitoring indicators are "moving in the right direction", including wastewater viral levels and testing per cent positivity levels decreasing.
However, the top doctor says, "COVID-19 is still present in the community and maintaining this hard-won progress requires ongoing vigilance."
"Accordingly, OPH continues to recommend that everyone assess their own risk and take steps to protect themselves and those around them who may be at greater risk."
Etches recommends using layers of protection, including gathering outdoors, wearing a mask indoors when physical distancing may be difficult and staying home when you're sick.
Etches issued a directive in July 2020 to make face masks mandatory in indoor public spaces across Ottawa.
Infectious disease special Dr. Isaac Bogoch suggests mask mandates may need to return in the fall.
"Listen, when we’re in the fall and there’s a ton of COVID out there, I think it’s fair to kindly request people to put a mask back on in public transportation," Dr. Bogoch said Wednesday.
"So let’s just keep up to date with what’s happening. Let’s keep up to date with science and let the policy be driven by science."