FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
OTTAWA - Horizon Ottawa today is reiterating their call for Dr. Vera Etches, Medical Officer of Health, Ottawa Public Health (OPH), and Board of Health Chair, Cllr. Keith Egli to defy provincial direction and reconsider lifting mask mandates in many indoor settings as the Ford government officially ends masking requirements in most spaces.
For the past month, Horizon Ottawa has been running a campaign to get our local public health authority to act due to the failure of provincial leadership to prevent harms to Ottawa residents. Through an email campaign launched by Horizon Ottawa, residents continue to ask Dr. Etches and Ottawa Public Health to use the powers they have under Section 22 of the Ontario Health Protection and Promotion Act to enact local measures and maintain certain COVID protections such as extending mask requirements, at least for essential services such as grocery and pharmacy.
“The decision being made today is not about the well-being and safety of our community but to score cheap political points before an upcoming provincial election,” said Sam Hersh, a Board Member of Horizon Ottawa. “We are again calling on Dr. Etches and OPH to act where the provincial government has failed to show any leadership.”
The complete shift to individual responsibility is reckless given the lack of available data and testing––both are limited to a small subset of the population. It is especially concerning given the rise in risk due to the new BA.2 subvariant. According to a special statement from Dr. Brent Moloughney, Deputy Medical Officer of Health, “…wastewater levels and the positivity rate of those being tested have been increasing, likely indicating an increase in transmission."
Until we have more data available on the impacts of lifting mask mandates in Canadian cities (particularly since Ontario is not the first to do so), we call on Dr. Etches to consider extending mask use in public places. Dr. Peter Juni, director of Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Table, said it was too early to see the impact of the last reopening step. Furthermore, we demand that OPH and elected officials in Ottawa at all levels of government advocate for the implementation of policies like more paid sick days, income supports, rent relief and expanded testing. We recommend an education campaign for residents to dispel the myth that the pandemic has ended.
Mixed messaging from elected officials is leading Ontarians to believe that going out without a mask is a personal choice without potentially significant ramifications. Both Ford and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore have asserted they will continue to wear a mask. In addition, Ottawa Public Health’s guidance on reducing the risks from COVID-19 recommends wearing a mask at every opportunity, and reminds us that “Learning to live with COVID doesn’t mean the pandemic is over.” OPH’s online guidance is clear — masking is important, and masking protects others, particularly in indoor crowded settings and in consideration of vulnerable and immunocompromised residents.
“Most experts in relevant fields, like Dr. Peter Juni, have been clear that now is not the right time to lift life-saving COVID protections like masking, especially in light of the new subvariant. We’re not saying never—just not yet,” said Melissa Valencia, a fellow Horizon Ottawa Board member. “Residents in our city are waiting for leadership and they know it will not come from Ford. We need Etches and OPH to act now.”
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