TORONTO — Top health officials in some Ontario regions are advising residents to keep wearing masks in light of rising COVID-19 trends. 

Dr. Vera Etches, medical officer of health for Ottawa, said Wednesday that she’s written to the province’s top doctor about “concerning levels of COVID-19” in the city. 

“The pandemic is not over and we are currently experiencing another resurgence,” Etches said in a written statement. 

The medical officers of health for Peterborough, Ont., and Durham Region also recommended masks stay on as COVID-19 indicators tick up. 

Ontario dropped the majority of its public health measures aimed at containing the virus this month, with masks no longer required in most indoor public settings and the proof-of-vaccination system for businesses and other settings dissolved. 

Meanwhile, the province’s COVID-19 metrics have been rising in recent days. 

The Ontario Hospital Association noted on Twitter that daily hospitalizations were trending upwards – 778 people were reported in hospital with the virus on Wednesday, including 165 in intensive care. 

The province also reported 1,610 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday but the province’s top doctor has said the true number of cases is likely 10 times higher than the official daily tally as access to PCR tests has been restricted to people deemed highest risk. 

Wastewater indicators suggest the number of cases has been on the rise since early to mid-March.

Etches said Wednesday that the city’s wastewater signal and test positivity were both “very high.” She said hospitalizations are “stable” but that could change as cases continue to spike.

The city’s public health officials “highly recommend individuals to continue wearing a mask indoors especially when physical distancing may not be possible or proves to be challenging in crowded areas,” she said. 

Dr. Thomas Piggott, medical officer of health for Peterborough, said on Twitter that there is high risk for COVID-19 based on current indicators like wastewater testing and test positivity. He said public health “strongly recommends” masking for all. 

Similarly, Durham Region’s top doctor, Dr. Robert Kyle, said he encourages residents to keep wearing masks in indoor settings outside their household, noting that “COVID-19 is still very much present and spreading in our community.”

Meanwhile, opposition politicians called on the Progressive Conservative government to expand access to PCR tests for the virus.

Critics have been calling for Ontario to reinstate broad access to the gold-standard tests, which have been restricted to certain high-risk groups since December when the Omicron variant overwhelmed resources, and those calls ramped up Wednesday.

“It’s obvious that a sixth wave is upon us,” said Liberal House Leader John Fraser. 

Based on that, he said the government should broaden access to tests and put more resources into vaccinating people who haven’t yet received their shots.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath echoed the call for expanded testing access and said the government should take action to avoid another lockdown if cases rise to challenging levels again.

“The last thing we need is to go backwards,” she said. “The government needs to be making testing more available, they need to be making sure that people have the access to masks and PPE. They need to be signalling to folks that we’re not finished with COVID yet.”

A spokeswoman for Health Minister Christine Elliott said Wednesday that PCR testing “continues to be readily available for those living and working in the highest-risk settings.”

Alexandra Hilkene said the province is complementing limited PCR test access with a “robust rapid testing strategy.”

She also said Wednesday that a government program offering free rapid test kits at grocery stores and pharmacies, which had initially been slated to run for at least eight weeks when it began in February, would continue until at least July 31.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 30, 2022.

Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press



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