Mask mandates at Ontario hospitals updated

More Ontario hospitals are relaxing their mask mandates as the province encounters a “moderate level” of COVID-19 infection.

In Toronto, University Health Network, Unity Health, Hospital for Sick Children and Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre are letting health-care providers drop their masks in staff-only areas while keeping mandates in check where patients are present.

Unity Health Network announced on Wednesday that masks are no longer required in non-clinical areas where only staff congregate. Masks are still mandatory in patient-facing and public areas.

Unity Health Toronto hospitals also recently made “adjustments” to masking requirements for staff in non-clinical areas, a spokesperson for the institution said on Wednesday.

“This masking policy reflects current COVID-19 epidemiology and aims to achieve consistency with current public health requirements and regional hospital guidance.”

SickKids is dropping its mask mandate in non-clinical and non-patient facing areas, such as administrative offices and meeting spaces, on April 24.

The hospital said the announcement comes alongside a “moderate level of COVID-19 transmission risk and a non-high risk period for respiratory virus transmission.”

However, like the others, patient-facing spaces still require masking. That also includes common areas, like hallways, elevators, stairwells and lobbies.

At off-site research-focused areas of the hospital, like the Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning, masking is no longer mandatory.

“As the pandemic situation and respiratory illness trends continue to evolve, we will make adjustments to safety practices based on the best available evidence and guidance,” SickKids said in a statement on Wednesday.

The relaxed masking rules went into effect at Sunnybrook on Monday. “Under additional guidance from the province and the Toronto Region COVID-19 Hospital Operations Table, Sunnybrook is relaxing universal masking for staff-only areas,” the hospital said in a statement.

However, patients and visitors are still required to wear masks, along with staff who are in contact with them, in an effort to “protect the most vulnerable” from COVID-19.  

In Hamilton, hospitals relaxed their mandates a step further on Wednesday.

“On April 19, Hamilton Health Sciences and St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton will no longer require patients and their families, and visitors to wear masks within hospital sites,” the hospitals announced earlier this week.

Meanwhile, health-care providers will still wear masks when interacting with patients.

“This is an interim change as hospitals transition out of a universal masking environment and as pandemic measures continue to wind down,” Hamilton Health Sciences said in a statement.

Several hospitals in southwestern Ontario stopped mandating masks for patients this month. Physicians only need to cover their mouth and nose if they are within two metres of a patient without a shielded physical barrier. Also, if there is a COVID-19 outbreak in the hospital unit, a mask is required.

The new rules apply at Chatham-Kent Health Alliance, Bluewater Health, Windsor Regional Hospital, Hôtel-Dieu Grace Healthcare and Erie Shores HealthCare.


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