Viral ‘triple threat,’ pressure on Mac children’s hospital in Hamilton leads to masking recommendation


Published November 30, 2022 at 3:34 pm

The mayor and top public health official in Hamilton “strongly recommend” that everyone should wear a well-fitting mask indoors, for the greater good.

The joint statement was issued by Mayor Andrea Horwath and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Richardson. It comes on the same day that a McMaster University researchers-led study shows that benefits of surgical masks and N95 masks are equally effective when it comes to preventing the spread of COVID-19 to health-care workers. On Monday, the mayor and councillors on the board of health also voted for the city to promote masking.

The City of Hamilton respiratory diseases dashboard indicates that COVID-19 transmission status is “moderate and descreasing” and influenza (flu) transmission is “moderate and stable.” Respiratory syncytial virus, a major cause of illness in infants, is also circulating. That has factored into the McMaster Children Hospital pediatric intensive care unit having occupancy as high as 154 per cent this month. (One hundred per cent is full.)

“With a triple threat of respiratory illnesses — RSV, influenza, and COVID-19 — currently circulating in our community, each and every one of us has tools to protect ourselves, our loved ones and the ability of Hamilton’s hospitals to treat those who need timely medical care,” the statement from Horwath and Richardson reads. “This includes as well our collective efforts as a community to help reduce the extraordinary pressure on the province’s pediatric healthcare system, including McMaster Children’s Hospital right here in Hamilton.

“The Chief Medical Officer of Health and Hamilton Public Health Services strongly recommend wearing a mask in all indoor settings to protect those who are most vulnerable — young children, the elderly, and those who are immunocompromised. Masking works and masking indoors is critical as the spread of respiratory illnesses will increase in the weeks ahead and the risk of infection will intensify.

“In addition to wearing a well-fitted mask indoors, it’s also important for community members to get a flu shot, stay up-to-date with your COVID-19 vaccination, screen for respiratory symptoms daily, stay at home if you’re feeling sick, wash your hands and clean high-touch surfaces regularly. Roll up both sleeves as soon as possible – Hamiltonians aged five and older can get their flu and COVID-19 shots at the same time.

“With the holiday season under a month away keep yourself and loved ones healthy. By getting vaccinated and continuing to layer up with effective public health measures, Hamilton can again enjoy all of the festivities and time with loved ones that makes this time of year so special.”

The McMaster-led study, whose lead author is Hamilton infectious disease physician Mark Loeb, looked at the spread of COVID-19 to health-care providers who treated patients with COVID-19. They tracked more than 1,000 health-care providers at 29 sites in Canada, Egypt, Israel and Pakistan between May 2020 and March 2022, which was the roughly two-year anniversary of COVID-19 being declared a public health emergency.

The health-care providers were randomly assigned to either a surgical mask or an N95 respirator. They could switch masks, or leave the study, at any time.

“The surgical masks were not statistically less effective than N95s in preventing COVID-19 infections in health-care providers looking after patients with COVID-19,” says Loeb, who is a professor in McMaster’s department of pathology and molecular medicine.

“The major thrust of this study is that there have been no other rigorous comparisons of surgical masks to N95 respirators during the pandemic. As a randomized clinical trial — it offers the highest standards of evidence — relating to this question throughout the pandemic, including the Omicron variant.”

The study, “Medical Masks Versus N95 Respirators for Preventing COVID-19 Among Health Care Workers,” is published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. An accompanying editorial called it “the best evidence to date on comparative effectiveness of mask types in preventing COVID-19 infection in health care workers providing routine patient care.”

The study was founded by the Hamilton-based Juravinski Research Institute, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the World Health Organization.

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