Starting March 21, Onatrio will be lifting the majority of its remaining COVID-19 restrictions, including the removal of the mask mandate on most indoor settings. While the Coalition of Ontario Universities has mandated that universities, including York, will still require masks to be worn in class and on campus (with exceptions to some designated areas), all other indoor venues will no longer require their use.
In an email sent to students on March 11, York confirmed that it would be adhering to its mask mandate for the remainder of the term. Yanni Dagonas, advisor and deputy spokesperson, confirms that “the update shared on February 17 is still very important as it makes clear that York’s health and safety protocols are not changing for the winter term.”
As recently reported by CTV News Toronto, the only places that will still require masks are “public transit, hospitals, medical clinics, long-term care homes, and congregate care settings (such as shelters and jails).”
While there is a palpable sigh across the province with this announcement, Peter J. Pitts, president of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest, visiting professor at Université Paris Descartes Medical School, and member of the Council for International Organizations of Medical Sciences Expert Working Group, warns that we aren’t simply going back to normal or encountering a “‘new normal,’ but that we must create a ‘next normal’ when it comes to healthcare systems and treatment.”
“Let’s take all these lessons we’ve learned and actually apply them to things other than COVID-19, because we have to prepare for the next pandemic, as it’s only a matter of time.
“We’ve also learned that when the whole healthcare ecosystem works together, we can achieve amazing things — we achieved vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics in basically under a year,” says Pitts.
The only hurdles we currently face in achieving our ‘next normal’ is overcoming the rate of health illiteracy, which Pitts asserts is a global pandemic in and of itself, as he notes that levels of health literacy are shockingly low. This is the underlying cause for debates over vaccinations and other controversial health issues.
“Advancing health literacy should become a prioritization, including designing programs across demographics, ethnic groups, geography, and linguistic issues,” says Pitts.
While health literacy is one step in the right direction, mistrust in governmental and healthcare systems also needs to be addressed. For Pitts, transparency and utilizing failures within the medical system as “teaching moments” will be key in establishing our ‘next normal’.
Along with health education, equitable and value-based healthcare will also need to be prioritized — meaning that value of care given to each patient is given primary interest. Ontario announced its roadmap to value-based healthcare in 2019, with focus restructured towards patients and caregivers.
Ontario’s next budget, however, will release new plans, as the health sector is requesting around three per cent increase so as to maintain current healthcare services as well as perform surgeries and other long-awaited procedures delayed due to the pandemic.