Province needs to give Toronto’s top doctor power to reimpose mask mandate amid rising COVID-19 data, says board of health

Toronto’s board of health is asking the province to restore the power of the city’s top doctor to impose mask mandates in the face of rising COVID-19 cases and a Public Health Ontario report that says reinstating indoor masking could help mitigate current trends.

At the city’s board of health meeting on Monday, Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s medical officer of health, told members that the province had removed her power to impose mandates.

“I and others in local public health units around the province have previously issued letters of instruction in the past, but that rested on our ability to do so as delineated under the Reopening Ontario Act,” said de Villa. “That ability has since lapsed.”

Last month, the province reversed parts of the Reopening Ontario Act, largely preventing local public health officials from issuing letters of instruction, which can mandate masking or vaccination requirements in local jurisdictions.

The city’s board of health is now calling on Doug Ford’s government to re-enable local medical officers of health to issue letters of instruction, “as part of the local tool kit” to reduce the impact of COVID-19.

“I don’t think people in the city of Toronto or the province of Ontario understand how devastating the new restrictions brought by the province of Ontario on what medical officers can and cannot do is,” said Coun. Gord Perks (Ward 4, Parkdale — High Park) at the board meeting.

Though medical officers of health may still issue written orders under Section 22 of the Health Protection and Promotion Act, de Villa said those orders are only meant to be applied “in very specific circumstances.”

(Speaking to Star columnist Bruce Arthur, several public health sources said Section 22 orders need to meet an immediate threat within a local health unit, but it’s harder to defend if the jurisdiction is highly vaccinated, among other factors.)

Asked about mask mandates in schools, de Villa said she still recommends the use of masks in schools, especially amid an increase in COVID-19 cases.

However, she said mandates in schools are ultimately the purview of the province. “The province has made it clear that when it comes to policy within schools, they are the lead,” she said.

The province’s ministry of health did not respond to the Star’s questions about why the province revoked the provision permitting local medical officers of health to issue letters of instruction.

The board of health’s request to the province comes as the city is witnessing an increase in COVID-19 activity. Data from Toronto’s wastewater surveillance dashboard released Wednesday reveals COVID-19 case counts are increasing across three of the city’s four wastewater treatment plants.

A brief published by Public Health Ontario on Friday said the “timely, temporary reimplementation of increased public health measures and continuation of existing measures can help mitigate current epidemiological trends.”

On Monday, Ontario’s top doctor acknowledged that the province is in the sixth wave of the pandemic, but declined to reinstate mask mandates.

“While we will not be reinstating a broad mask mandate at this time, we should all be prepared that we may need to summarize a requirement for mask wearing in indoor public spaces if a new variant of concern emerges,” said Dr. Kieran Moore, the province’s chief medical officer of health, at a press conference.

With files by The Canadian Press


Conversations are opinions of our readers and are subject to the Code of Conduct. The Star does not endorse these opinions.

Leave a Comment