Monday marks the first day in more than 17 months that people in Ontario can enter various indoor public settings without a face mask on, and, like the introduction or removal of any other COVID-19 mandates, the change is already bringing about a strongly divided response.
While many are celebrating the further loosening of long-running restrictions and a return to the closest pre-COVID normal that we’ve had in some time, others are livid at the provincial government’s decision and any positive cases or deaths that may occur as a result.
And while most bars, restaurants, schools, gyms, concert halls, sports arenas, retail stores and other spaces are no longer requiring patrons to don face coverings to gain entry as of 12:01 a.m. today, there are a few select situations in which people still need to wear one, including on public transit and in hospitals — and some others, as certain sectors push back against the new rules (or lack thereof).
University campuses provincewide were among the first to announce that they wouldn’t be following the government’s lead on the matter, with the Council of Ontario Universities saying in a statement on March 11 that institutions would “maintain their COVID-19 vaccination and masking policies until at least the end of the current term,” which runs through to the end of April.
Some individual businesses are likewise keeping masking in place for the time being, and at least one public school board in the province has made the same decision.
The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board plans to continue to enforce mandatory masking in its classrooms despite the fact that Ontario Minister of Education Stephen Lecce told the board it has no authority to do so now that the provincial order is over.
The move also has no endorsement from Hamilton Public Health.
Still, all schools within in the HWDSB will “continue their mask mandate until April 1, 2022, to allow for a transition period after the March break and for students seeking to transition to remote learning,” the board wrote in a letter to families.
“Students and staff will be required to wear masks (non-medical or medical) while indoors at school and on buses until April 1, and will be strongly encouraged to continue masking after this date.”
Some appear to be celebrating the stance, while others find it “shameful” and “ridiculous” — just one popular tweet on the subject has received thousands of retweets, hundreds of quote tweets and nearly 1,000 impassioned responses in a mere 14 hours.
Technically, medical officers of health in various regions can issue their own Section 22 orders to keep masking in place regardless of what the province is doing, though none have done so as of yet.
Some groups, including students in Toronto, are physically protesting the absence of mask directives, though leaders are encouraging people to keep wearing face coverings if they so choose, and to respect each other’s personal decisions when it comes to the garment.
“Masks can help protect you and others from becoming infected with COVID-19… for those most vulnerable to the virus it is still strongly recommended that you continue to wear a mask,” Ontario Chief Medical Officer Dr. Kieran Moore said during a press conference earlier this month about the lifting of the measure.
“As a society, I am asking that we remain kind, considerate and respectful of those who continue to choose to wear a mask.”