'Triple threat' of viruses hit Ontario: 'All layers of protection' in form of masking strongly recommended for winter, top doctor says

Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario's chief medical officer of health, and Dr. Chris Simpson, executive vice-president medical with Ontario Health, stated Monday morning that the province is facing a "triple threat" of viruses, COVID-19, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), contributing to "extraordinary pressure" on the pediatric healthcare system.

"Unusually high numbers of children are coming into hospital emergency departments for one or more of these viral illnesses and the total number of these children who require admission is uncommonly high," Simpson said.

Moore added that Ontarians need to get back to using "all layers of protection," including screening daily for signs of illness and staying home if sick, practicing good hand hygiene and regularly cleaning high-touch surfaces, staying up to date on both COVID-19 and influenza vaccinations, and masking.

In response to the worsening trends and existing challenges for our healthcare system, I’m strongly recommending that all Ontarians, not just those at high risk, wear a mask in indoor public settings, especially around our most vulnerable Ontarians.Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario's chief medical officer of health

Why aren't officials mandating masking?

When asked why masking is only a recommendation and not a mandate in public settings, Ontario's chief medical officer of health stressed that the first step is education, adding that it's mostly children age four and under, who can't always mask, who are at high risk. Additionally, the protections need to be taken in personal social setting, including a parent wearing a mask if they wake up with cold and flu symptoms, which is missed by public masking mandates.

"If we had to mask up, we would do it based on best evidence and we would follow it through clearly as we go into the most social time of year, going indoors," Moore said. "I'm very concerned that the risk is going to go up for our children and we'll be monitoring that situation very closely."

"I don't think [mandatory masking] is inevitable."

Moore said that if there has to be a masking order around daycare workers, the province "will consider that."

He added that half of the children in ventilated at the Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) have influenza and the other half have RSV.

"I don't know if all parents realize that a common cold to them can be a serious and severe respiratory illness to someone four and under," he said.

The percentage of respiratory tests that are positive in Ontario are now at 14.5 per cent, up from 10.3 per cent one week ago. The current percent positivity for RSV is at 6.4 per cent, increasing over several weeks. COVID-19 percent positivity has been decreasing but it "remains high" at 14.2 per cent.

Simpson stressed that parents should not hesitate to bring their children to their local emergency department if necessary.

"All pediatric patients will be seen when they come to a hospital," he said. "If they require admission, then we will look after them but in order to do this, other parts of the health system will be impacted."

"We’re already seeing a reduction in scheduled surgeries and procedures and this will likely continue as we reallocate our resources to focus on pedeatircs."