Guelph doctor pushing for mask mandate to remain in schools

As Ontario’s mask mandate is set to lift in most public settings on March 21, a family doctor in Guelph has joined the push to keep the requirement intact in schools.

Dr. Andrea Chittle wrote an open letter to Education Minister Stephen Lecce, calling for the province to maintain universal masking in classrooms. The letter included a petition with more than 6,000 signatures.

“This sort of seemed like a way to gather people together and sort of let the government and our leadership know that there are a lot of people in Ontario who are hoping that we could follow the guidance of the Children’s Health Coalition and keep masks in schools at this time,” Dr. Chittle told CTV News.

Dr. Chittle said schools should be treated differently than other public indoor settings, because of the various circumstances and living arrangements of each student.

“In schools we have people who aren’t eligible to be vaccinated and we have individuals who are eligible to be vaccinated, but the vaccine uptake has not been great in that population. We have people who are living with individuals who might be at higher risk for COVID complications,” Dr. Chittle said.

The doctor said recent signs pointed toward the province eventually lifting mask mandates, but hoped guidance from child health experts and data from Ontario’s top doctor would persuade the province to keep the requirement in schools.

“Dr. [Kieran] Moore has also let us know that community cases of COVID continue to be quite high in Ontario and that we can expect the rates to continue to be high going forward, as protections in other settings continue to be lifted,” Dr. Chittle said. “It would make sense to follow that guidance from those experts and at least wait a few more weeks so we can assess the data again.”

Dr. Chittle added that many children travel with family during March Break, and could already be infected with COVID-19 when they return to class.

“It seems like, here’s a scenario where a lot of children aren’t very well protected. We have a simple measure that we can use that we have evidence works and we know community cases are high,” Dr. Chittle said. “Why wouldn’t we take that measure for the safety of those students and for the people in their lives?”

In response to the province’s decision to lift masking mandates, the Children’s Health Coalition released a statement encouraging continued masking for students as a measure to keep schools open. The coalition also said it supports a return to universal masking, if the province faces a new surge in COVID-19 infections.

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