Ontario to drop most mask mandates on March 21, remaining pandemic rules to lift by end of April

Ontario will scrap most mask mandates — including in schools, restaurants and stores — across the province on March 21, with the province’s remaining COVID-19 regulations also set to drop by the end of April. 

The province says improving health indicators, such as a stable COVID-19 test positivity rate and declining hospitalizations, as well as Ontario’s high vaccination rates and the availability of antiviral treatments, allow for these steps.

The province’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Kieran Moore, announced the new changes Wednesday. 

“We are now learning to live with and manage COVID-19 for the long term,” Moore said. “This necessitates a shift to a more balanced response to the pandemic.”

However, Moore said removing the mask mandate “does not mean the risk is gone.”

Moore noted masking requirements may need to be reinstated if there is another spike in COVID-19 cases, adding that vulnerable people should continue to take precautions despite the easing of restrictions.

“We should all be prepared that we may need to resume mask wearing,” he said, adding that he hopes anyone who remains vulnerable will continue to wear their masks.

Moore, speaking at his last scheduled briefing, said the end of weekly updates does not signal that the virus has disappeared or that the pandemic is over.

“We will closely, carefully monitor COVID-19 trends across the province. We will not hesitate to take action should the situation change and we will inform Ontarians of any significant developments,” he said.

The move comes after the province already began rolling back some pandemic health measures last week, as it lifted proof-of-vaccination rules for certain businesses as well as capacity limits for businesses and social gatherings.

All restrictions to lift on April 27

On March 21, masking requirements will be removed in most indoor settings in the province, including restaurants, retail and grocery stores and schools.

  • You can read the province’s full update at the bottom of this story.

Mandates will remain in place for public transit, long-term care and retirement homes, shelters, jails and congregate care and living settings. 

Other measures in schools will also be lifted on that date, including removing cohorting and daily on-site screening. In addition, all other regulatory requirements for businesses will be removed, including passive screening and safety plans. 

Then on April 27, all remaining mask requirements and emergency orders will expire. 

The province also says it will make changes to the way it reports data related to COVID-19. As of Friday, the government says it will no longer report deaths of people with the virus who died of an unrelated cause. Instead, the Ministry of Health will only report deaths where COVID-19 was the underlying cause, contributed to the underlying cause, or where the cause of death is unknown or missing. 

Meanwhile, Ontario is also expanding its list of settings eligible for PCR testing to include home and community care settings and provincial demonstration schools.

751 COVID-19 hospitalizations, 27 more deaths reported

Meanwhile, the province is reporting 751 people in hospital with COVID-19 and 27 more deaths linked to the virus on Wednesday.

Today’s reported hospitalizations mark a slight dip from Tuesday when 779 were reported, and are down from 847 this time last week. 

According to the Ministry of Health, about 46 per cent of those admitted to hospital were directly seeking treatment for COVID-19 symptoms, while 54 per cent were admitted for other reasons but have since tested positive for the virus.

Of the hospitalizations reported, there are 241 patients in intensive care, marking a decrease from 246 on Monday and down from 273 exactly one week ago.

​About 82 per cent of those patients were admitted to ICU specifically for the virus, while the rest were admitted for other reasons but also tested positive for the virus. 

Ontario reported another 1,947 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, though Moore warned the actual number of new cases each day is likely 10 times higher than what is being reported through limited PCR testing. 

The 27 additional deaths reported Wednesday push the official death toll to 12,618.

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