Mask mandates are set to be lifted on March 21 and vaccine requirements have nearly vanished across Niagara’s businesses, but the region's associate medical officer of health says there is “a lot of uncertainty” about where COVID counts will go from here.
“Ontario’s one of the later regions to remove mask mandates. I’m glad we waited this long,” Dr. Azim Kasmani said in an interview Monday.
“I would have waited a little longer but the decision has been made,” he said.
Kasmani noted there are COVID surges in several countries around the world right now but said Ontario has more than 90 per cent of its residents aged 12 and up vaccinated, an essential bulwark against a potential rising tide of COVID.
“It’s our job now to respond and make sure that we do other things like make sure everyone is up to date on their vaccines — has received their third dose,” he said.
“If they haven’t received their first or second they need to get those as well to protect themselves.”
He said Ontario is at a point where it needs to balance the risk of COVID with the harms associated with continued safety measures in the form of social isolation and economic difficulty.
COVID has not gone anywhere and the threat is still very real, he said, pointing to surges across China and New Zealand, two countries famed for their zero COVID policies, as examples of how completely eliminating the virus is simply not possible.
Kasmani noted a stark difference between the nations' outbreaks.
“There was a lot more trust in government (in New Zealand) and a lot more people in the elderly age groups got vaccinated. As a result, although cases in both countries are going up, their hospital and ICU admissions and deaths are orders of magnitude different,” he said.
He further stressed the importance for vulnerable populations to get vaccinated.
“Anyone over the age of 50 that hasn’t gotten their first, second or third dose yet: go get that,” he said.
“We don’t want to see other measures being introduced at this point,” he said.
He said the under-vaccinated and unvaccinated are overrepresented in deaths and ICU admissions in Ontario.
Kasmani said it is essential we support people who wish to continue wearing masks after mandates are lifted.
“I absolutely support people who will continue to wear a mask because I think that can help across the population,” he said.
Kasmani said he will continue to wear a mask when out shopping or in crowded places, and not because he is overly concerned with his own safety.
“I’ll deal with the fogged glasses a little bit longer to keep the community safe,” he said.
“It’s not about me getting sick. If I get sick, I’m less worried than if I transmit (COVID) to somebody else who could become really sick.”