Ontario Premier Doug Ford attends a news conference at the Ontario Legislature, in Toronto, on Monday, February 14, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Ford says mask mandate end ‘not far away’

The end of mask mandates in Ontario is “not far away,” and could come as early as after March Break, Premier Doug Ford said Monday.

Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine certificate system is set to end Tuesday, and all remaining capacity limits for indoor public settings will be lifted as well, but Ford has said mask rules would be in place for “just a little bit longer.”

Ford said he will wait for the recommendation of the chief medical officer of health, Dr. Kieran Moore, who said a few days ago that he would have an update in the coming weeks.

“What I’m hearing over the next few weeks, maybe after March Break when kids get back, but we’ll see. I don’t want to set a date,” Ford said at a news conference on Monday.

“We aren’t far away.”

Moore said last week that when mask mandates are removed for public settings they will simultaneously be lifted in schools.

A coalition of children’s hospitals, including SickKids in Toronto and CHEO in Ottawa, is urging the government to keep mask requirements in schools for now.

“Case counts and hospitalizations, while on the decline, remain high,” the hospitals said in a statement. “Many children remain unvaccinated. Young children are still ineligible. The evidence is clear: Masking helps prevent transmission not only at school, but prevents kids from then spreading COVID-19 at home to unvaccinated siblings, family or community members.”

Ford said that just because many public health restrictions are lifting Tuesday, doesn’t mean the pandemic is over.

“I’m always going to follow the advice of the chief medical officer, health and science. And there’s no doubt: still be cautious. This isn’t going to be the Wild West,” Ford said.

“We’re just glad through the hard work of everyone in Ontario, we’re able to take the next step.”

Ontario reported 849 people hospitalized and 279 in intensive care due to COVID-19 on Monday, though not all hospitals report data from the weekend.

There were 842 people with COVID-19 in hospitals and 281 in ICU the previous day.

Ontario reported three more COVID-19 deaths.

There were 1,315 new COVID-19 cases being reported, but provincial policies limiting access to testing mean that number is likely higher.

Wastewater data being monitored by Ontario’s science advisory table suggests that COVID-19 activity in the province is starting to rise again, after consistently declining since early January.