Mask up: Keeping staff healthy should be an employer’s priority, infectious disease experts say

As the seventh wave of COVID-19 sweeps through Ontario, it comes at a time when most public safety measures to combat the pandemic have been lifted.

But while vaccines, masks and capacity restrictions are no longer mandatory, infectious disease experts say abandoning them altogether would be premature and could leave businesses, workers and customers vulnerable to the disease.

“A smart employer who wants to keep their business going is going to do everything they can right now to keep their staff healthy,” said Dr. Gerald Evans, chair of the infectious diseases section at the School of Medicine. ‘Queen’s University. “If they don’t, they’re going to be in a lot of trouble.”

This week, the province’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Kieran Moore, and the head of the Ontario government’s science advisory table, Dr. Fahad Razak, said the province is in a seventh wave of COVID- 19, driven by the Omicron BA.5 variant.

Moore and Evans both cited increasing test positivity, the presence of COVID in sewage, and an increase in the number of local public health units experiencing dramatic increases in cases.

Masks and vaccines are still an essential part of protecting workers, customers and society as a whole from COVID, even if making them mandatory is no longer the right approach, Evans said.

“I’m not a public health worker, but I communicate with these guys frequently, and I know there’s absolutely no appetite to bring back these restrictions, because they recognize what human behavior is.” , said Evans. “All we can really count on is a little selflessness from people to think about themselves and others. And to do what they can. One of the easiest things and the easiest you can do is wear a mask.

Evans said masks are especially important indoors, in settings such as an office, store or other area where people are in closer quarters.

“Part of it is the employer saying, ‘I have to keep my workforce available, and one of the ways I can protect them is to ask them and maybe tell them’ look, I want you to wear a mask when you are at work.’ Because a cashier in a grocery store or any type of store — small or large — is going to help customers who may not be wearing a mask,” Evans said.

Mask mandates, capacity restrictions and vaccine passports are unnecessary, said a spokesperson for Health Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Sylvia Jones.

“With our high vaccination rates, along with the arrival of antivirals, Ontario has the tools to manage COVID-19 over the long term,” said Stephen Warner, who also highlighted the hiring by the government of 10,000 health care workers since the start of the pandemic.

“We will continue to work with our hospital and healthcare partners to ensure we have the capacity and resources in place to meet any challenges that may lie ahead,” Warner added.

But labor rights advocate Deena Ladd says removing mandatory health measures ahead of the seventh wave makes it even more vital for the Ontario government to permanently extend paid sick days to all workers. of the province.

“With all other restrictions and health measures removed, the only viable way to protect workers is to pay sick leave. There is overwhelming evidence that they work,” said Ladd, executive director of the Workers’ Action Center.

A temporary Ontario program giving workers three paid sick days expires at the end of July. (in some workplaces, contracts entitle employees to more paid sick days). This week Labor Minister Monte McNaughton said the government was considering the fate of the scheme. But Ladd said that with other safety measures gone, a broader sick-day program is needed.

“Without that, workers are going to feel like they have to go to work even if they’re sick, and that’s not good for anyone,” Ladd said.

In the meantime, infectious disease specialist Dr Isaac Bogoch says we should all hide indoors and get booster shots.

“It has to be about making smart choices. “Hey, let’s go out to dinner” or “hey, let’s make sure Grandma gets her next reminder,” Bogoch said.

Mandating masks and reinstating vaccine passports by government decree will not work at this stage of the pandemic. People are getting frustrated and tired, Bogoch said.

“People have to buy in. Communications have to be there to make sure people understand the situation,” Bogoch said.

Still, just because we’re frustrated doesn’t mean COVID will go away any time soon, he warned.

“We are in another wave. Sticking your head in the sand and ignoring it doesn’t make the problem go away. It will rise and fall for the foreseeable future,” Bogoch said.