TORONTO — Commuters on public transit in Ontario have been able to drop their masks this week now that provincial mandates have lifted.
Mask rules for public transit and health-care settings expired last weekend, with the province's top doctor saying high vaccination rates and improvements in the COVID-19 situation allowed for the mandates to end.
The Canadian Press took the pulse of commuters at Toronto's bustling Union Station to get a sense of how the end of the mandates is being received. Here's what some said:
Jorge Junir, 61
Junir wore a black cloth mask emblazoned with a gold Toronto Raptors logo as he passed through Union Station on his daily commute.
He takes the subway from his home in the city's east end to work at a downtown hotel. He said he feels less safe riding public transit now that the mask mandate has been dropped.
"I’m 61-years-old, I have a health problem," he said. "The virus is still here. Yes, the numbers are down, but still the virus is here."
Junir said his entire family continues to mask in public.
"It’s to protect other people too," he said. "Especially now that the mask mandate is gone."
Bina Rathod, 48
Rathod walked through Union Station unmasked to catch a GO Transit train home to Brampton, Ont.
As a franchisee of two downtown Toronto counter service restaurants, Rathod said Canada had been "so slow" to lift restrictions, which hurt business. For her, the end of the public transit mask mandate is a hopeful sign of change.
"I’m feeling perfectly fine because it has to go back to normal," she said. "We've taken all the vaccines as well, plus two booster doses, so I think we should move on."
On occasion, Rathod said she will mask up if the train gets crowded, but otherwise she goes without.
Even if cases rise again, she does not anticipate a return to regular mask-wearing on her commute. Rathod said she expects the government will now treat COVID-19 similar to the way it treats the seasonal flu.
Mark Rein, 45
Rein arrived in Toronto from his home in Kelowna, B.C., on Monday for a business conference and said he had taken local transit at least eight times.
He went unmasked at Union Station, but said he dons a face cover when crowds swell.
"If I’m near people then I do. If I have enough space then I put it back in my pocket. Waiting on platforms, I typically keep my two-metre distance and go without the mask. If it’s getting crowded then I do throw it on," he said.
"I just want this thing to go away once and for all, so I don’t mind having to put it on just to help that happen."
Back in Kelowna, he said he was more comfortable without a mask. But in a bigger city, such as Toronto, he was more likely to put it on.
Rein backed mask mandates when they were imposed, but he said people should now be able to decide for themselves.
"I think we’ve gone far enough and enough of the population has either been infected or is fully vaccinated, so I agree that people should have a choice whether to wear it or not," he said.
Before he leaves his mask behind for good, Rein said he wants to see hospitalization rates "really, really fall."
Lyndsay Comeau, 25
Comeau, who was heading on vacation, wore a mask in the Great Hall at Union Station after arriving on a Via Rail train from her home in east Toronto.
At Union Station, the mask rules depend on what train you ride. Travelers on federally regulated trains, such as Via Rail, must continue to wear masks on their trip.
Comeau said it was understandable for the federal mandate to remain in place.
"I think each city needs to go with their own needs," she said.
On her trips on Toronto transit, which she said have become less frequent since the pandemic began, Comeau prefers to keep her distance and wear a mask. At this point, she said it is partly due to the virus and partly social preference.
"It’s just basic human space. I realized afterwards that I just don’t like being that close to people," she said with a laugh.
If cases continue to go down, Comeau said she would stop wearing a mask in certain places.
Kevin Curtis, 22
Curtis, who was unmasked as he stood at Union Station, said he was ready for his first summer post-graduation, after finishing his undergraduate degree this spring at Toronto Metropolitan University. He plans to make the GO train trip from his home in Markham, Ont., to downtown Toronto regularly.
"I just love the vibe downtown, so it’s nice to come out, go to events and stuff like that," he said.
Curtis still takes precautions: he does not leave the house if he’s sick and he takes rapid tests when symptomatic. But, he said, "as of right now, I’m going to keep the mask off for as long as I can and enjoy the summer."
Lately, he has avoided COVID-19 updates. Curtis said the constant updates earlier in the pandemic made him anxious. But if case numbers and hospitalizations were to increase, he said he would mask up again.
"If things do go back up and, obviously, if they did put back restrictions then, of course, you just have to go with it," he said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 14, 2022.
Jordan Omstead, The Canadian Press