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Editorial: How Kieran Moore (and company) are minimizing COVID

You’d think public health officials would put at least a little enthusiasm into their messaging about masks, key tools for keeping airborne diseases at bay. But no.

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On the one hand, the Ontario government is so desperate to help hospitals in crisis that it is prepared to kick seniors out of hospital beds and into long-term care homes that not meet their needs or who are far from their families. On the other hand, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health is making recommendations on COVID that may well put new pressure on those same beleaguered hospitals. Great.

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This week, Dr. Kieran Moore said the province would drop its mandatory five-day isolation period for people with COVID-19. Now just avoid returning to work until your symptoms have improved for 24 hours (but please wear a mask for 10 days – just in case). And if anyone is in close contact with a sick person, please self-monitor for symptoms and wear a mask for 10 days.

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Meanwhile, Ontario hospitals are struggling to keep essential services running. The latest local example is Kemptville District Hospital, where the emergency department is closed in the evenings until the end of the long weekend due to “absences, vacations, staff fatigue and the burnout related to COVID”, explains the CEO. From Montfort in Ottawa to Carleton Place and Alexandria, hospitals face similar challenges. Perth’s ER has closed for weeks due to a COVID outbreak and a shortage of nurses.

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While Ottawa’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Vera Etches, notes COVID hospitalizations are reasonably low now compared to eight months ago, Moore expects an increase in the fall. So why give the public advice that seems short-sighted?

Some health officials believe it’s time to treat COVID as one of many circulating diseases. Nothing to see here; to advance. Vaccination rates, Moore happily notes, have been high; some schools have better ventilation, and children aged 5 to 11 can now get their boosters if they’ve waited six months – thankfully, because they no longer have to mask up in those crowded indoor environments called schools.

Lockdowns are probably a thing of the past, as are vaccination mandates. Fair enough. Still, you’d think Moore would put at least some enthusiasm into messages about masks, key tools for keeping airborne diseases at bay. But no; while reiterating their importance for the vulnerable, he says people should continue to mask up when “it’s good for you”. Apparently, the strategy is no longer about protecting anyone else.

This signal is distressing. Ontarians — Ottawans in particular — believed early on that we all had a role to play not only to protect ourselves, but also to protect others. It is no longer a public health issue. This bodes ill for the fall and for future pandemics.