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'We need to do something': uOttawa epidemiologist says masking is a solution to slowing respiratory virus transmission


An epidemiologist at the University of Ottawa says "we need to do something" to stop the transmission of respiratory viruses this fall, as debate continues on whether masks should be mandatory in Ottawa's public schools.

The Ottawa Carleton District School Board held a meeting Tuesday evening to discuss a motion to require students, teachers and staff wear a mask in school, but the meeting ended before trustees held a final vote.

Epidemiologist Raywat Deonandan says with CHEO seeing a surge in patients with respiratory viruses like RSV and COVID-19 this month, one solution to slow transmission is masking.

"My position is we have traffic in the hospitals that cannot be sustained, we have children who are going to die unless something is done about this. Now I'm open to any kind of solution, no solutions are on the table – one possible solution with high probability is widespread mask wearing," Deonandan told Newstalk 580 CFRA's Ottawa Now with Kristy Cameron.

"Now I don't care how we get to widespread mask wearing; it'd be great if we did it voluntarily, but if it comes down to a mandate then that's a political decision that has to be made, but we need to do something to stop the transmission of these respiratory viruses. I don't think people are fully aware of how bad the situation is in these pediatric hospitals."

Ottawa's children's hospital has postponed non-urgent surgeries and procedures, opened a second pediatric intensive care unit and reassigned staff to deal with a rise in patients. CHEO reported the ICU was operating at 200 per cent occupancy on Tuesday.

"Given the horrors being experienced in the hallways of many hospitals right now, we have to do something to slow transmission," Deonandan said Wednesday afternoon.

"Mask wearing won't stop it; it's not the perfect solution but what we're looking for here is just creating space in the hospital so that when sick kids need help they can get it until this current crisis is over."

Ottawa Public Health and CHEO "strongly recommend" people wear a mask indoors and in crowded public spaces. Ottawa's influenza per cent positivity rate is 23.4 per cent for the week ending Nov. 19.

Deonandan says masks will work against all respiratory viruses, including RSV.

"It's not going to be a perfect control, but it will help. You throw in some handwashing and some symptom checks, it will help even more," the epidemiologist said.

Eastern Ontario's medical officer of health says a mask mandate has not been taken off the table, but health officials believe voluntary compliance is the better solution.

"I believe, first, we need to ask people to wear the mask. Make it a habit; wash your hands, don't go out when you're sick, cough into your sleeve, wear a mask when required during a couple of weeks' time," Dr. Paul Roumeliotis told CTV Morning Live on Tuesday.

"At this point, I'm hesitant to mandate it."

Roumeliotis says people only need to wear a mask for a "couple of weeks" to help slow the spread of respiratory viruses.

"Let's be logical here; what we're trying to do is collectively decrease the number of viruses that are circulating right now. It's COVID, it's flu, it's RSV – all these things have come together in an unprecedented fashion, and all we want to do is blunt them, decrease them so we could take the pressures off the hospital and protect our most vulnerable," Roumeliotis said. "I just want people to mask up; but not only mask up, get your flu shot, get your COVID vaccine." Top Stories

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