Ontario doctors are saying the province is facing a triple threat of respiratory diseases — COVID-19, the flu and RSV. And while the doctors said masking will help ease the threat, they have stopped short of calling for a mandate.
The issue was discussed Wednesday during an online news conference with the Ontario Medical Association (OMA) where several physicians outlined their concern that COVID, influenza and RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus) are placing significant pressure on hospital emergency rooms.
OMA president Dr. Rose Zacharias said the health-care system is already under immense strain and emergency departments are experiencing record volumes.
"Ontario's doctors are urging the public to ensure they get vaccinated for the flu and to also get their COVID-19 booster shots," Zacharias said.
"For the last two winters, we've had very few cases of the flu because we were following public health measures to prevent the spread of COVID, like mandatory masking and physical distancing. And so this is the first flu season since the pandemic began that we don't have those same public health measures in place. And that's worth paying attention to," she added.
Sudbury.com asked Zacharias if the OMA preferred to "recommend" masking or would the OMA prefer having a formal masking mandate. Zacharias said the doctors are encouraging the idea of masking.
"We do want people to consider wearing masks in places that are crowded, for example, in places where there are more vulnerable people, when it's difficult to keep that distance or avoid a face to face, then wearing a mask is very reasonable and encouraged," Zacharias said.
She added that the OMA would abide by whatever advice comes from "our public health experts" regarding a mask mandate.
"And so in the meantime, we do have opportunities to make decisions for ourselves and our children based on our own health risks, and the risks of those that we'll be interacting with and our comfort level around masking," Zacharias said.
She quickly added that Ontario residents need to be ready to pivot if things get worse.
"Our entire conversation today is around the increasing risk of respiratory illnesses and we know that masks can protect there, so we will be continuing to lean into our public health experts and the advice they give us," Zacharias said.
Also during the news conference, comments came from Dr. Vinita Dubey, the Associate Medical Officer of Health for Toronto Public Health. She said as people learn to live where there are viruses, there are ways to prevent the spread of infection.
"First and foremost, getting vaccinated because that really is our ongoing measure of protection that we can continue to have. You mentioned wearing a mask. And of course we can wear a mask, especially in indoor settings, especially if they have poor ventilation or if they are crowded. We know that a mask can protect us and others from the spread of respiratory viruses. That is something that we have learned through the pandemic," Dubey said.
Dubey also reminded the conference that even though no masking mandate has been put in place it only makes sense given the rise in respiratory diseases that masking is the right thing to do. She added that Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario's chief medical officer of health, has already stated that if the situation creates a greater demand on Ontario hospitals, then a formal masking mandate could happen.
Len Gillis covers mining and health care for Sudbury.com.