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Masks 'critically important' as York Region moves to next stage of pandemic

Region's top doc outlines next steps to reopening with new clinics -- and a warning
Feb. 28, 2022
Kim Zarzour

York Region's medical officer of health, Dr. Barry Pakes, provided an update on the pandemic Feb. 24. Here are some key take-aways:

1. Vaccine Anxiety Clinic set in Vaughan

York Region is hosting a special Anxiety Reducing Vaccination clinic on Friday, Feb. 25, at 9060 Jane St. in Vaughan, with extra support for anyone age 5-plus with fear around needles and vaccinations. Appointments are required and can be booked at

2. School-based Vaccination Clinic planned

A school clinic is set for Saturday, Feb. 26, at St. Jean de Brebeuf Catholic High School in Vaughan. Appointments are available online at or Access York 1-877-464-9675; walk-ins will be accepted based on clinic capacity.

The Pediatric Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine will be available for children aged five to 11 and adolescent/adult Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for anyone aged 12 and older; both Pfizer and Moderna will be available for adults aged 30 years and older

3. COVID trending down, but concerns remain

Almost 50 per cent of all York Region residents have received their boosters. Hospitalizations have decreased and stabilized.

Modelling shows there could be a slight increase in hospitalizations related to reopening, but not a significant one. Public Health is watching the BA. 2 variant of Omicron that is about 30 per cent more transmissible, but does not appear to be more severe or more able to escape vaccine immunity.

4. Vaccine clinic changes announced

Throughout the month of March, the region begins a staggered closing of mass vaccination sites, enabling municipal spaces that housed the clinics to return to community/recreational uses.

Smaller clinic sites will be opened and the mobile outreach strategy expanded to reach residents who have not yet been vaccinated or received their booster.

Monday, Feb. 28, the vaccination clinic located at the Newmarket Community Centre will close permanently, and the clinic located at the Georgina Ice Palace will reduce operations to four days per week, offering vaccinations for walk-ins and appointments Thursdays through Sundays.

All other mass vaccination and community clinics operate seven days a week. An up-to-date listing of COVID-19 vaccination clinics, including clinic dates and operating hours, is available at

5. Proof of vaccine requirement dropped

Vaccine passports were “incredibly important” to nudge people to get their shots. It is reasonable to scrap them now with 90 per cent of Ontarians vaccinated. Proof of vaccine requirements are still valuable “in principal,” especially with vulnerable groups like older adults, but Public Health won’t be enforcing them.

Herd immunity might have been possible with 91-92 per cent vaccinations level with Delta. Because Omicron is much more transmissible, there is no real meaningful level of herd immunity to prevent infection. There is, however, a level to protect against severe infection and Ontario is reasonably close to that now.

6. Masks mandates should stay

As of March 1, all indoor capacity limits will be removed, proof of vaccination programs will end, but masks remain “critically important.”

Pakes said this is the wrong time to get rid of mask mandates, just as we are removing all other measures in the community. Instead, he said, we need to watch case numbers. “What we've seen in other jurisdictions (that dropped mandatory masks) is a bit foreboding.

“Masks are not just about protecting yourself, but on a population level. If all wear masks, it reduces the overall burden,” he said.

7. No more easy-access testing

With a virus as transmissible as Omicron, there isn’t enough lab capacity in Ontario or around the world to keep up with demand.

Instead, we must rely on different tools -- wastewater in particular -- to give public health an indication when things are ramping up again, or improving enough to drop mask mandates.