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Ontario will lift most COVID-19 mask mandates on March 21, top doctor says

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COVID-19 mask requirements in Ontario will lift in most indoor settings later this month, the province’s top doctor has confirmed.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore made the announcement at Queen’s Park on Wednesday.

“We are now learning to live with and manage COVID-19 for the long term,” Moore said in his last regularly scheduled COVID-19 update. “This necessitates a shift to a more balanced response to the pandemic.”

Starting March 21, masks will no longer be required in schools, restaurants and bars, gyms and movie theatres across the province.

The government said individuals can continue to wear a mask after that date if they choose to do so.

On March 14, mandatory vaccination policies for employees at schools, child-care settings, hospitals and long-term care homes will also come to an end.

Masks and face coverings will still be required in places like public transit, long-term care homes, health-care settings and shelters until April 27 -- after which the requirement will end in those settings as well.

Additionally, the Reopening Ontario Act (ROA), which allows the government to issue public health directives at the provincial level, will expire on March 28. A final extension of all the emergency orders in place under the ROA will be in effect for 30 days after that date.

At a separate news conference Wednesday, Premier Doug Ford said that the choice to wear a mask beyond March 21 will be a personal one.

“It's going to be up to the people of Ontario, if you want to keep the mask on, keep it on,” Ford said. “If you want to take it off, take it off. But we have to move forward from this, people are exhausted and the poor kids in those classrooms too. Like we got to move on.”

Wednesday’s announcement comes after the province ended its mandatory proof of vaccination requirement to enter most non-essential businesses on March 1. Capacity limits and physical distancing requirements were also lifted at that time.

The number of hospitalizations and ICU admissions related to COVID-19 in Ontario has been dropping since mid-January and the province has said that the peak of the Omicron variant is “behind us,” thanks to time-limited public health measures and high vaccination rates.

As well, the presence of COVID-19 in wastewater sites, which health officials use to collect data on the transmission of the novel coronavirus, has started to decrease.

ISOLATION RULES FOR THOSE EXPOSED TO COVID-19 ALSO CHANGING

There will soon be no isolation requirement for any individual who is exposed to the virus outside of their own home.

Instead, for the 10 days following exposure, individuals will be asked to self-monitor for symptoms, wear a mask and avoid activities where mask removal would be necessary. They should not visit anyone who is at higher risk of illness and should not attend work at, or visit, a high-risk setting like a hospital or long-term care home unless they have tested positive in the past 90 days.

The previous guidance stipulated that all unvaccinated and immunocompromised individuals exposed to COVID-19 outside of their homes had to isolate for 10 days.

Similarly, those who are exposed to COVID-19 within their own household -- who have tested positive in the past 90 days, who are above the age of 18 and have received a booster dose of vaccine, or who are under the age of 18 and are fully vaccinated with two doses -- do not need to self-isolate, but should follow the recommendations above. Individuals who do not meet these requirements, such as those who are unvaccinated, must self-isolate following exposure.

Previously, any individual exposed to COVID-19 in their own home, regardless of vaccination status, was required to isolate.

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