Ontario planning COVID-19 boosters for fall, most mask mandates ending Saturday

Ontario’s top doctor says he is planning for a new round of COVID-19 booster doses to be rolled out this fall as the province is set to lift most mask mandates in high-risk settings on Saturday.

Provincial mask mandates for public transit and health-care settings will expire this weekend — though hospitals say they will keep requiring masks. 

Masking will still be required in long-term care homes and retirement homes and are still recommended in higher-risk congregate living settings, such as shelters and group homes.

In an interview Friday, Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Kieran Moore, said preparations for a fall COVID-19 strategy are well underway, including vaccinations, and officials are going through various scenarios such as an aggressive flu season and new COVID variants.

LISTEN | Ontario should have extended high-risk setting mask mandates: science table head

Metro Morning8:42As mask mandates in most high risk settings expire this weekend, Dr. Fahad Razak wants to see universal masking policy in Ontario hospitals

Dr. Fahad Razak is Scientific Director for Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, and an internist at St. Michael’s hospital.

Moore says there will be another booster dose available for the people most at-risk, with the potential to then open it up to the general public.

He says he anticipates that in the fall, a new generation of vaccine will be available that targets both the original COVID strain plus a more up-to-date one that is circulating, such as for Omicron.

Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Kieran Moore, said preparations for a fall COVID-19 strategy are well underway, including vaccinations, and officials are going through various scenarios such as an aggressive flu season and new COVID variants. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Moore says that if another wave of COVID-19 threatens the health system and its ability to deal with the surgical backlog he may bring back mask mandates, but says he doesn’t think any other public health measures will ever be necessary for the virus again.

Despite the province lifting masking policies in hospitals, the Ontario Hospital Association (OHA) says it is not aware of any hospitals in the province that will be ending their masking requirements on Saturday.

OHA president Anthony Dale said the organization representing the province’s public hospitals had recommended an extension to the provincial order requiring masking in hospital settings.

10 more deaths reported

Meanwhile, Ontario is reporting 536 COVID-19 hospitalizations and 10 more deaths on Friday.

Friday’s reported hospitalizations are down slightly from 549 on Thursday and from 669 on the same day last week.

According to the Ministry of Health, 42 per cent of those hospitalized were admitted specifically for the virus, while the rest were admitted for other reasons and then tested positive.

Of those in hospital, 110 required intensive care, down from 118 on Thursday, but down from 117 this time last week. Fifty-two patients require the help of ventilators to breathe.

Some 66 per cent of people in intensive care units were admitted because of the virus, while the rest were admitted for other reasons and then tested positive.

Meanwhile, the province reported at least 835 new daily cases of COVID-19 on Friday, with 9,192 tests completed within the past 24 hours. However, due to testing limitations, officials say the actual number of daily new cases is likely far higher than reported.

The provincewide test positivity rate stands at 7.3 per cent.

Wastewater data surveillance set up to detect COVID-19 suggests a continuing overall decline in the level of infection in most of the province except for northern Ontario, according to the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table.

The latest data shows the decline of wastewater detection as of May 31 with estimates that this trend will continue in June.

The new deaths reported Friday push the province’s pandemic death toll to 13,324.

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