Ontario government must maintain key public health measures to address catastrophic surgical backlog: RNAO says

RNAO issued the following media release following the Ontario government’s announcement of the lifting of public health measures.

TORONTO, Feb. 14, 2022 /CNW/ - With a COVID-19 positivity rate of 13 per cent and more than 1,300 Ontarians in hospital sick with the virus, the government's plan to ease public health restrictions on Feb. 17 and lift most on March 1, including proof of vaccination requirements, puts Ontarians waiting for procedure and surgeries in danger of further delays, says the Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario (RNAO). Given Ontario's continued nursing crisis and the catastrophic backlog of surgical procedures, it is crucial the government maintains mandates to allow the health system to stabilize and resume health services for all, not only persons with COVID-19. 

On Feb. 9, Minister of Health Christine Elliott said there weren't any imminent plans to remove the vaccine certificates, yet today the government changed its course. "Nurses recognize the importance of lifting public health restrictions when evidence indicates it's safe to do so, however, at a time that hospitals continue to be taxed and most health resources are occupied with COVID-19 patients, it's wrong to drop key public health measures like vaccine certificates," says RNAO CEO Dr. Doris Grinspun. "Proof of vaccination and masking must continue until surgeries and other procedures deemed non-urgent are no longer delayed," Grinspun urges.

Premier Ford announced businesses can choose to maintain the proof of vaccination requirement in their establishments after the mandate is lifted, but RNAO says the onus should not be placed on businesses. "Business owners have faced enough hardship throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and should not be subject to the harassment of non-compliance if they choose to request proof of vaccination from patrons, especially during these volatile times," Grinspun adds.

In addition, only half of children ages 5-11 in Ontario have received one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and approximately 20 per cent have received both, so the vaccine mandate must continue to be an important means to both protect children and encourage remaining Ontarians who have not already done so to get vaccinated.

"The government said it themselves only last week that they would reopen the province slowly, but yet again they're moving too soon and too quickly," says RNAO President Morgan Hoffarth. "Nurses continue to be on the forefront of care and urge the government to maintain vaccine passports as these encourage people to get vaccinated which must continue to be a key priority to allow the health system to stabilize."

Although the government didn't specify a date to lift its mask mandate, Hoffarth says "the government must continue to mandate masking in all enclosed public spaces for the foreseeable future. Well-fitted masks have shown to decrease transmission and are an effective layer of public health protection."