Niagara public health urges people to keep covering up, notes cases have climbed
Wearing masks is no longer mandatory inside most Ontario businesses and public places, but some people are still pulling one on as a safety precaution and see no need to haphazardly forget about the pandemic.
“I’m used to it, it’s not a big thing to me,” Tony King of London, Ont., said after visiting the Viking Shop on Queen Street on Monday, the first day that mask-wearing became optional.
“In fact, I feel a little bit naked not wearing it.”
King said COVID is still around and it’s important to be aware of that and not only for his own sake.
“I think the risk is still here. I’m healthy but I know a lot of people are at risk,” he said.
King owns a moving company in London and said he has been wearing a mask for every shift he’s worked in the last two years, hot or cold.
“So, I’m used to it and I’ve had COVID,” he said.
For King, it was a week of being sick. “But I know a lot of people who have had it and died,” he said.
He said his aunt is 90 years old and he would never forgive himself if carelessness around COVID caused him to transmit the virus to her.
“Be cautious, but let’s look forward,” King said.
Other people were of a similar mindset — still embracing safety precautions but aware the times they are a-changin’.
“It’s a good time to start going back to normal but I’m going to wear my mask whether I’m out in public or in crowded places,” Tom Samolczyk, visiting from Kitchener, said as he sat on a bench outside Cows Niagara-on-the-Lake.
His reason was simple and straight to the point: “COVID is still around and we are going to see a spike.”
“I’m going to wear it. I’m wearing it now and I’ll wear it in stores. I guess, sometimes you’ll see me with it off if I’m in the park,” he said.
Samolczyk said masks shouldn’t be people’s only tool to protect against COVID-19.
“I think it’s important to be vaccinated. I know some people disagree with that but I think it’s very important,” he said.
“I’ll probably drop it after a while but maybe keep it around for a couple more weeks,” Peter Laszlo of Dundas said as he visited the shops along Queen Street.
On Tuesday, Niagara’s public health department strongly recommended people continue to wear masks.
In a news release, the agency noted cases and hospitalizations had been falling, but “in recent days, that decline has ended and hospitalizations have increased again.”
“COVID-19 continues to circulate widely and there is still substantial risk at this time. Even with limitations on testing, we are seeing large numbers of cases every day. The true number of infections is likely still higher than in any previous wave,” the release said.
“Public health strongly recommends everyone who can to continue wearing masks for the next few weeks while COVID-19 infections remain high.”
The department also said masks are still required on all public transit, in health care settings, long-term care and retirement homes and congregate care settings.
Masks are also required if you are on day six to 10 of having COVID-19 and are released from isolation or if you are a contact of a confirmed case but not required to isolate.
Public health also said it is a strong supporter of all businesses that choose to keep masking policies as these will “protect employees and clients, and allow our organizations to operate without interruption.”
NOTL business operators said they are following the province’s orders and leaving mask-wearing up to customers.
“As per (provincial) guidelines, masks are optional for all customers and staff,” Tony Hendriks, owner of Hendrik’s Independent Grocer told The Lake Report in an email.
“That being said, many customers and staff are choosing to remain masked. No issues have come up one way or the other. People, by now, know how to shop smart, protect themselves as they feel they need to (and) keep distanced as appropriate.”
Other spots such as Penner Home Hardware Building Centre and the Sunset Grill are also making masks optional.
One of the exceptions is the Shaw Festival. Proof of vaccination is still required to attend a Shaw performance, as the company invoked a duty of care “to keep audiences and company members safe throughout the pandemic,” spokesperson Jenniffer Anand said in an email.
Masks will still be required for performances through May 2, she said.
The Niagara-on-the-Lake Public Library is now mask-free and has increased its hours of operation.
The library will now be open on Mondays as well as its previous Thursday to Saturday schedule. Hours of operation are 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. from Monday to Thursday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Fridays, and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays. It is closed Sundays.
A spokesperson for the Town of NOTL said the municipality no longer requires masks to be worn in any of its facilities.
When children returned to school in St. Davids and Virgil on Monday after the March break, they also had the option to go maskless.
At Crossroads Public School in Virgil, principal Kate Fish said, “Just like in our Niagara communities, there’s a mixture of who’s wearing a mask and who isn’t. Some students have opted to take them off, while others have decided they’d like to keep wearing them.”
As well, “some have even decided to keep a mask close by in their backpack, jacket or at their desk, so accessing one when they want to is easy. But what’s most important is that no matter what an individual or family has chosen to do, we are respecting and supporting it,” Fish said in an email.
“We’re focused on ensuring every student feels safe and comfortable at school and that they are continuing to get a quality education.”