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Mask mandates return to Ontario long-term care amid spike in COVID-19, respiratory illness cases

Masking requirements are back for long-term care staff in Ontario amid an uptick of COVID-19 cases and outbreaks in the sector.

The new rules went into effect on Nov. 7 and impact staff, volunteers and support workers, who will now have to wear masks indoors in all resident areas.

The directive says it is “strongly recommended" that caregivers and visitors wear masks indoors, except when in a resident’s room or when eating or drinking.

A Public Health Ontario report published on the day the new masking rules went into effect says there have been 7,157 cases of COVID-19 among residents and staff so far in 2023.

There were 181 resident hospitalizations and 106 deaths.

In retirement homes, there were 3,884 cases of COVID-19, 172 hospitalizations and 21 deaths.

The report shows a significant increase in the number of respiratory virus outbreaks over September and October in long-term care.

This chart shows how many respiratory virus outbreaks in long-term care homes. (Public Health Ontario)

Ontario is seeing a high positivity rate for COVID-19 at about 17 per cent, which is significantly greater than the positivity rate for influenza or respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

For the first full week of September, Public Health Ontario data says Ontario saw roughly 12 cases per 100,000 people.

For the last week of October, that number jumped to 20.5.

Wastewater surveillance data also appears to show a slow uptick in the virus as of Nov. 9.

Provincial mask mandates, put in place at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic to curb the spread of the disease, were lifted in long-term care in October 2022. At the time, masks were recommended for caregivers and visitors, but not mandatory.

However, throughout the fall, some Ontario hospitals have brought back the mask requirements in patient-care areas.

A new COVID-19 vaccine, which targets the XXB variant, was made available to anyone over the age of six months as of Oct. 30.

Dr. Fahad Razak, an internist at St. Michael's Hospital, told CP24 at the time the vaccines are effective and “incredibly safe.”

“The goal here is to keep the (hospital) system protected. Remember, this is the system that not only treats COVID-19 and influenza, but it is the system that has to treat you if you have a heart attack or are in a car accident or need cancer therapy,” he said. Top Stories

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