Is it too early to lift mask mandates? The head of Ontario’s COVID-19 science table thinks so

In light of the announcement that Ontario will lift most mask mandates for indoor settings on March 21, the head of the province’s COVID-19 science table is weighing in on whether the move makes sense.

Dr. Peter Juni, director of the Ontario COVID-19 Science Table, told CTV News Channel on Wednesday that it seems too early to be sure we can safely lift mask mandates.

“I would like to follow the data,” he said. “I can’t right now, it’s too early to already see the impact of the last reopening step which happened first of March. So I would have preferred — but that’s how I’m conditioned as a scientist — to accumulate about 10 days more of data, and then see, do we remain stable after the last reopening step. If yes, let’s do the next one, if no, let’s wait for a moment.”

On March 1, Ontario officially ceased its vaccine mandates that required businesses such as restaurants to require proof of vaccination to use their indoor facilities.

In order to truly see if the end of vaccine mandates impacted case levels in Ontario, or whether Ontario cases were unaffected, we would need to wait around two weeks after March 1st, Juni pointed out. This is one of the reasons that some experts feel the removal of mask mandates in the province is premature. 

Juni acknowledged that reopening steps that have unfolded since January, such as the reopening of schools have occurred without cases rising, which is a positive indicator.

“We saw that the [previous] reopening steps actually worked and we stayed stable,” he said.

But in terms of whether removing vaccine mandates will result in more cases or not, “right now, it’s too early to tell,” he said.

“I personally would have preferred to wait about 10 days to two weeks to come up with a decision [on mask mandates], and this would also allowed us to see what the experience of Quebec will be with their lifting of mask mandates in schools.”

He said that the overall data that they have “gives me quite some confidence” but that it’s the lack of certainty that keeps him from endorsing the move fully.

“We’re still stable, and I would just much prefer that we keep it that way, that we don’t start to see an uptick of cases followed by hospital occupancy,” he said.

He added that if there is a lift in cases in response to any of these reopening measures, it is “highly unlikely that this will be at the same level of what we saw in December.”

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