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Is there any benefit to wearing a mask when nobody else is?


A province-wide mask mandate that was first introduced in October 2020 has now been lifted in virtually all of the so-called “high-risk” settings where it had remained in place, including on public transit.

But just because the mandate is no longer in effect, doesn’t mean that you can throw away your masks.

In fact a number of locations, including virtually every single hospital in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, will continue to require masks for the time being.

The TTC is also “strongly recommending” that its riders continue to wear masks, though they will no longer be required to. recently spoke with the new scientific director of Ontario’s Science Advisory Table, Dr. Fahad Razak, about how to navigate this new masks optional environment.

Here is his advice:

On the benefits of masking, even when those around you aren’t

Individuals still derive clear benefit from wearing a mask and even more benefit if it is a high quality mask. So cloth masks are inferior to the surgical masks that you see a lot of people wear, including myself. So the blue and white masks that are designed with a triple layer and enhanced protection. Even more protective are the N95s but those can be difficult to wear for a long period. But yes, absolutely wear a mask. It does protect you even if those people around you are not wearing a mask. In fact, it could become especially important if people around you are not wearing a mask. But there would be even more protection for individuals if everyone was wearing a mask. So think about it as tiers of protection. If you wear a mask, you’re definitely increasing your personal protection. But if everyone around you is wearing a mask, it goes even higher

On navigating where and when to wear a mask

My advice is that we're still in a period of high degrees of transmission in the community. Certainly we have come down from the peaks. It is nowhere near what it was a couple of months ago. But a lot of transmission happened and many people know someone who has been infected in just the last few weeks, I certainly do. Not healthcare workers, people who don't work in high-risk sectors, just people who were infected by routine day-to-day things in their life. So you still have to think that if you're in a public setting, especially in an enclosed indoor setting, that you're potentially going to be exposed. So I would say given the uncertainty about the degree of immunity we still have, given risk of things like long COVID and given the risk of transmitting to vulnerable people around you, you should keep that mask on in public indoor settings. That's what I'm doing, that's what most of my colleagues are doing and I think it's still a prudent way to handle this phase of the pandemic, even though things are getting better, which is fantastic.

On how he approaches the mask question in his own day-to-day life

I wear my mask without fail in public indoor settings. Grocery Store, going to the bank, going to my office, obviously on the medical wards as well. I have been in an indoor setting where I've taken my mask off, specifically going out to dinner. I really have gone out very little in the entire pandemic. But there is the rare occasion, a special occasion, where I go out and those are the few times that I've taken off my mask in an indoor public setting. But even there if I'm going out to a restaurant, I am looking to see if there's a patio available right? It is beautiful weather and it is markedly safer to be outside rather than inside if your mask is off.

On the possibility that mask mandates could be re-imposed

I think that definitely could be a possibility in the fall. It's going to be tough, no one wants to roll back towards some of those requirements we had at the peak phase in the pandemic but it's a virus you know and it really doesn't care what we want. On average, since the pandemic started, one of these variants and a wave has happened about every six months. So if that continues - we have just had this Omicron wave - six months would roughly bring us towards the fall and that would be the time to worry, along with people spending more time indoors as the weather cools, kids are back in school, other respiratory viruses - influenza, RSV as well,. So we could have a very challenging fall and winter season and if things get very difficult, lots of admissions to hospitals, lots of people getting sick, I think there would have to be serious reconsideration of all public health measures, including extending the mask mandate and reintroducing them in other settings.

On what the next few months will look like for Ontario, now that the mask mandate is gone

You know we have come down from a very difficult peak, a very difficult peak that stretched us in ways in some ways similar to prior waves where we had a lot of people getting sick but in this wave especially, it was the disruption of the degree of illness I think more so than the number of people in the hospital that was the real disrupting effect. So we are entering what I hope to be a good summer. I hope people have some time for recovery because I know people are exhausted. But I think there's a need to keep an eye on the public health messaging and as we go through the summer and into the fall we're going to be watching things like wastewater (surveillance) and if there is a rise again we have to be ready. Top Stories


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