The Registered Nurses Association of Ontario is telling the province a strong recommendation isn't enough. It demands a provincewide mask mandate in all public settings and a new campaign to boost flu and COVID-19 vaccination.
"The government must go there now," insisted RNAO CEO Doctor Doris Grinspun.
Ontario's Medical Officer of Health, Doctor Kieran Moore, stopped short of a mandate on Monday. Instead, he told reporters the province is "strongly recommending" masking to fight the triple threat of COVID-19, influenza, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) among children.
Ontario's Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore. (Screenshot from November 29, 2021 news conference)
Moore said children are the most at risk of hospitalization right now, and pediatric intensive care units are bursting at the seams with patients. ICU patients 14 and older at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children are being transferred to adult units, while the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa has opened a second pediatric ICU.
Moore said the province is reviewing the possibility of implementing masking mandates in schools and childcare centres.
"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," Grinspun said. "Now the lives of children are at risk, and the government must act urgently."
The latest wave of illness comes when hospitals are experiencing a shortage of nurses.
"The triple threat is forcing the system to reallocate the minimal health human resources it has, further delaying other surgeries and scheduled procedures," RNAO President Doctor Claudette Holloway said. "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. 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."
Meanwhile, vaccination rates for COVID-19 booster shots and the flu vaccine remain low. While masking can help prevent the spread of infection, vaccination remains the best way to avoid illness.
"The government must engage immediate campaigns to raise vaccination uptake," asserted Holloway.
According to federal vaccination data, only 18.7 per cent of Ontario residents five and up have completed their primary series of COVID-19 shots or received a booster shot since August 1, 2022. Only 39 per cent of Canadian adults got a flu shot last year. There is no vaccine for RSV.
"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," Holloway added.