The mask mandate will no longer be in effect come Sunday, July 17, according to Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh.
Speaking at a virtual media conference yesterday, Deyalsingh indicated that the legal requirement will be lifted in favour of recommendations by the Ministry of Health that people will now choose to follow based on their personal risk assessment. He said the ministry is still ironing out the details of the recommendations, but he expects the final guidance will be announced next Wednesday.
Although still being tailored, Deyalsingh said the recommendations will be based on a few factors.
“The risk-based recommendations are going to be based on your vaccination status, your medical history, your age, your household. Do I live with a lot of people who are immunocompromised?” he said.
This is why he said the guidance will advise that four groups of vulnerable people continue wearing masks. These are those who are unvaccinated, the immunocompromised, the elderly and pregnant women.
He said recommendations will also be made that masks be worn in certain settings, such as geriatric homes, children’s homes, indoor congregations, public transport, aeroplanes and during religious services.
There have been previous calls from parents to remove masks for children in schools. However, while the mandate is being lifted, this is still under the ministry’s consideration.
“We are going to be paying attention to all the data between now and school opening, but for now and for the next couple of months from...Sunday 17th July, the mask mandate is off and we will cross that bridge with schools based on the data we have then,” he said.
“So hopefully, once the data continues to be good and if more and more people get vaccinated, then we will make further recommendations.”
While there will be a shift toward personal choice in wearing masks, the Minister of Health said they will remain mandatory in healthcare facilities.
“The new regulations that will come out will still have masking as a feature, a mandatory feature at healthcare facilities,” he said.
“So you go into a hospital, a clinic, a healthcare facility—masking will be required.”
Deyalsingh assured that the country’s parallel healthcare system had the capacity to bear any increase in COVID-19 cases due to ending the mandate.
“Our hospitalisations have been hovering around 100, 120 for a while, we have now dipped below 100, our ICU levels are very, very low,” he said.
“That is why we are making this decision at this time because we feel if we get any spike in cases that the healthcare system has more than enough capacity, at this point in time, to cope with that.”
The mask mandate was instituted on August 31, 2020, and has been one of the longest-standing restrictions under the Public Health Regulations during the course of the pandemic.