Ontario is not yet at the point where it can begin rolling back masking requirements even for the fully vaccinated, an infectious disease specialist says.
Several jurisdictions in the United States are allowing people who have been fully dosed with a COVID-19 vaccine to go without masks in some public and workplace settings.
Some major sports leagues have done so too after the U.S. Centres for Disease Control (CDC) relaxed its masking recommendations for the vaxxed up.
Despite rising immunization rates in Ontario, only a relatively small percentage of the population has received two doses.
“And you don’t know who that is, you don’t know who it is around you, which is why you would be wearing a mask,” Dr. Gerald Evans, chair of the division of infectious diseases at Queen’s University, said in an interview last week. “And you wearing a mask to prevent transmission is important because you don’t know who around you isn’t vaccinated.”
“And with the delta variant, which is very transmissible — probably 40-50% more transmissible than the alpha variant — there’s a potential significant risk,” he added.
Eventually, the province will begin lifting masking requirements gradually, possibly when about 75% of a local population has had the needed jabs, Evans said.
If an individual is fully vaccinated, he said the chance of getting COVID-19 is very low, and the risk of serious illness would be below 5%.
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If infected after full vaccination, the odds of passing it on to another person would be low as well, he said.
The pandemic in Ontario has entered a difficult stage in terms of masking because the population is a mix of single dosed, double dosed and unvaccinated, he said.
“Masks have been a particularly divisive issue and it has been very much along ideological lines that the issues of masks have popped up,” Evans said.
“If we knew everybody was fully vaccinated you could remove masks, but that’s not where we’re going and we’ve already seen some fairly interesting anecdotal evidence that people are very much prepared to say, ‘I’m fully vaccinated even when they haven’t had one shot,'” he said.
Vaccination status is considered private information that doesn’t have to be shared, complicating the masking issue even more, he said.
Ontario can’t only focus on what’s happening within its own borders, either.
“We have to recognize that most of the world is not immunized or vaccinated,” Evans said. “So when you look at it globally, it’s even more challenging.”
“And even now in the States with a lot of reductions in mask wearing … there’s still a requirement to wear a mask if you’re in an airport and if you’re travelling by air,” he added.