Bring back mask mandate to protect children and reduce pressures on already-strained health system
To confront the dangerous triple threat of COVID-19, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and influenza currently putting children’s lives at risk – particularly those aged four and younger – the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO) calls on the Ontario government to immediately mandate masks rather than merely recommend them. A mask mandate will reduce illness and increase awareness of the seriousness of the current hospital crisis. It will also reduce community spread of the three viruses ahead of winter, when the situation will become even more dire.
If Ontarians don’t comply with the most recent public health recommendations, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore said Monday that a mask mandate “would be the furthest (the province) would have to go” to reduce the spread of the triple threat. “The government must go there now,” RNAO CEO Dr. Doris Grinspun says. “We’ve unfortunately witnessed the tragic past consequences of taking too long to enact public health measures on our most vulnerable populations – seniors and residents in long-term care homes. Now the lives of children are at risk and the government must act urgently by mandating masks in all indoor public settings before it’s too late,” she insists.
In conjunction with the triple threat is the province’s worsening nursing crisis, on which the government has failed to act in full force. “While the government has taken some important steps such as increasing education seats, lowering the barriers for internationally educated nurses, and funding nurse practitioners for long-term care, the major roadblock of Bill 124 continues to drive nurses – especially RNs – away from Ontario,” says Grinspun. The impact of this massive exodus is seen through temporary emergency department closures, ICU closures, delayed surgeries and unsafe nurse to patient ratios. “Urgent action is vital and overdue, but Monday’s economic statement from the Ontario government fails to recognize the urgency, meaning the Ontario public must prepare for the health-care crisis to worsen,” adds a frustrated Grinspun.
“Ontario is already facing a strained health system due to staffing shortages, and now the triple threat is forcing the system to reallocate the minimal health human resources it has, further delaying other surgeries and scheduled procedures,” says RNAO President Dr. Claudette Holloway. “All nurses want to provide high-quality care to every person who needs it, but they’ve been stretched for the past two and a half years and desperately need support to alleviate the unrelenting pressure on the health system.” The government’s slow action on the nursing crisis, and its inaction to mandate masks to help health professionals and children is both “reckless and alarming,” adds Holloway.
Vaccination rates for COVID boosters and for the flu vaccine are both low, presenting a double risk to Ontarians. “The government must engage immediate campaigns to raise vaccination uptake, especially among vulnerable sectors,” says Holloway. She adds that “until the government engages the necessary actions, RNAO urges every Ontarian to wear a mask in indoor public settings and get vaccinated against both COVID-19 and influenza. #BringBackMasks"
RNAO warns Ontarians to remain extremely careful about repeated infections with COVID. New research dispels the widely held view that second and third infections with COVID are milder since the body has already been exposed to the virus. On the contrary, accumulating new evidence suggests that subsequent infections may have compounding effects, becoming ever more dangerous and potentially linked to Long COVID. That’s why masking and maintaining very high levels of vaccination with COVID boosters remain crucial.
The Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO) is the professional association representing registered nurses, nurse practitioners and nursing students in Ontario. Since 1925, RNAO has advocated for healthy public policy, promoted excellence in nursing practice, increased nurses’ contribution to shaping the health system, and influenced decisions that affect nurses and the public we serve. For more information about RNAO, visit RNAO.ca or follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
- 30 -