Reducing the risks from COVID-19

Last updated: September 22, 2022

It's important to remember that COVID is still present in Ottawa. There is still risk of transmission, and the risk of infection & severe outcomes from COVID-19 is greater for some individuals than others. 

However, Ottawa residents have learned tools and skills to prevent transmission that we did not have two years ago. 

We'll continue to update this page in order to help you make informed decisions regarding your own personal levels of risk, and the risks you may pose to those around you, in the current environment.

Visit ontario.ca/covid19 for more information on the latest public health measures in Ontario.

Ottawa Public Health's role

We will continue to monitor the COVID-19 situation in Ottawa using a variety of monitoring indicators such as wastewater signals, test positivity, vaccination levels, outbreaks, hospitalizations and deaths.

This information will continue to be available on our website

We will continue working with Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Kieran Moore, to assess options should key indicators (including hospitalizations) start trending upward in a concerning way. 

We'll work with health and community partners to continue to provide regular updates on the ongoing work being done at the local level during the COVID-19 pandemic. We meet regularly with our healthcare partners to review lessons learned and we continue to collaborate with them. 

We will always strive to remember the “public” in public health. Listening to the community is a vital aspect of our work, and we will continue to ensure residents have ways to make their voices heard.

Am I at a higher risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19?

A person with any of the medical conditions listed below is more likely to get very sick with COVID-19 especially if they have yet to receive at least two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

  • Older age – risk increases for people in their 50s and increases in 60s, 70s and 80s.
  • Unvaccinated individuals, especially those over 50 years of age.
    • A booster dose is recommended for these individuals to further reduce their risk of severe outcomes.
  • Certain cancers
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Chronic liver disease
  • Chronic lung diseases (E.g. COPD)
  • Diabetes
  • Cardiovascular disease (E.g. Heart failure)
  • Dementia
  • Immune-compromised state
  • Pregnancy

The list above does not include all possible conditions that put you at higher risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19.

COVID-19 antiviral treatment

a hand holding pillsTalk with your healthcare provider about how best to protect yourself from severe outcomes from COVID-19. The Ontario Government is offering important antiviral treatment that certain highest-risk groups must begin as soon as possible because treatment has to be started within five days of symptom onset to be most effective. Speak to your primary care professional to discuss your risk and make a plan on how to quickly access important COVID-19 therapies.

If you are symptomatic, there are many ways to get a COVID-19 test or see a medical professional for an assessment and access COVID-19 treatment. For more information visit OttawaPublicHealth.ca/CovidTesting.

Use your layers!

COVID is still out there. Below are some actions you can take to reduce your risk. Every one of them adds a layer of protection which can lower your risk and the risk you pose to those around you. 

Think of it this way, Ottawa: the colder it is outside, the more important it is to dress in layers to protect yourself from the cold and stay warm. As it gets colder, you add more layers. 

In this case the higher the level of risk you are facing, the more important it is to consistently use as many of these layers as you can. And every single layer counts! 

Your layers: 

  • Being vaccinated with all the doses you are eligible and recommended for 
  • Monitoring yourself for symptoms and staying home when sick 
  • Wearing a mask 
  • Avoiding crowded indoor spaces 
  • Maintaining physical distancing 
  • Washing your hands (yes, still) 
  • Respecting those who remain at higher risk of complications from COVID-19 by wearing a mask and staying home when sick

If you are someone who remains at higher risk, consistently using these layers is essential. Please note that you may also be eligible for testing and treatment options. Learn more here.

What is Your Level of Risk?

Sometimes, it helps to ask ourselves some simple questions to better understand the risks that we might be facing (or the risks we might pose to others). Below are some examples of questions to help you assess your levels of risk. 

Hint: generally speaking, it’s safe to say that indoor crowded spaces where people are unmasked and not up-to-date on their COVID-19 vaccinations are higher risk. 

Do you have any symptoms of COVID-19?

Yes, what now?

No, and...?

  • Just because you have no symptoms doesn’t mean you don’t have COVID-19.
  • To reduce your risk from COVID, be sure to use your layers of protection when going out. 
Will you be spending time in a crowded indoor space?

Yes, what now?

  • This can be higher risk to yourself and others, but layers can be used to help lower the level of risk to everyone. 

  • Be sure to wear a mask and try to keep your distance from others. 

  • Open windows and ensure everyone eligible is up to date on their vaccines.
  • Note: your best option is always to meet outdoors.

No, and...?

  • Avoiding crowded indoor spaces is generally considered lower risk.
  • Be sure to bring a mask with you, in case your plans change.
  • As always, using the rest of your layers will help lower your risks.
How can I reduce the risks of COVID-19 transmission in indoor spaces?

Exhaled breath, whether from breathing, speaking, singing, shouting, etc., contains a variety of sizes of particles - respiratory droplets or aerosols - some of which are big enough that they fall quickly to the ground. Some of which are small enough that they can stay in the air for various lengths of time.

COVID-19 is primarily transmitted through direct contact into the mouth, nose, or eyes with the exhaled respiratory droplets or aerosols which carry the virus from an infected person. Ventilation indoors with fresh air provides an important additional layer of protection. Ventilation with fresh air should be improved whenever possible, e.g., bringing in more fresh air through a properly maintained ventilation system or by opening windows and doors. Reducing the risk of transmission while indoors by wearing a mask or face covering and ensuring a distance of two metres (six feet) from those outside your household, continue to be important basics.

Poor ventilation in indoor spaces is linked to increased transmission of respiratory infections, particularly if the space is small. Transmission of COVID-19 has been linked with enclosed spaces, including from people who are infected but are not showing any symptoms of illness.

Even when keeping a distance of two or more metres, people should wear a mask if spending time in an enclosed airspace with people not from their household. The longer you are exposed to someone else in an enclosed space, the higher your chances are of breathing in that person’s exhaled respiratory droplets. The safest approach is to wear a mask at all times when you are in the same room with someone not from your household.

How do heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems affect the transmission of COVID-19?

A well-maintained HVAC system may help reduce transmission of COVID-19 by exchanging indoor air, into which people have exhaled, with fresh outdoor air and by filtering recirculated air.     

Because of mechanical and structural complexity and cost, improved ventilation may need to be a longer-term goal, though adjustments to maximize air exchanges and filtration efficiency within the specifications of the existing HVAC system should be made as soon as possible.     

If possible, consult an HVAC professional to determine:    

  • If your HVAC system is operating properly    

  • If it can be adjusted to increase air exchange    

  • If it is using the most effective type of filters compatible with its system.    

  • If it is suitable for the size of your space and its intended use    

There are also quicker added interventions, such as portable high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration units but purchase and operating costs must be considered. Note, however, that within a single room, the air blown around by air conditioners or fans may increase the distance over which a virus can be transmitted. To help prevent blowing air from areas in which there may be virus into other areas and to reduce the concentration of virus particles in these areas:    

  • Minimize the use of air conditioners and fans blowing within the room (e.g., by using the lowest setting)  

  • Direct airflow away from surfaces and people (e.g., use a fan by aiming it to exhaust air out a window)  

  • Increase natural ventilation by opening windows if weather permits    

Please note that air conditioners and fans also require regular maintenance, such as:    

  • Surface cleaning, including the blades    

  • Removal of any moisture or water that has collected in portable air conditioners    

  • Filter changes    

  • Other maintenance activities found in manufacturers’ instructions    

Please note: Ventilation must never be considered the main or only means of risk reduction: masking, distancing, barriers, and hand hygiene have more immediate and reliable results.  

Will you be visiting anyone who is at higher risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19 in the coming days?

Yes, what now?

  • You may pose a high risk to those you are visiting.
  • It’s essential that you and the person you are visiting are vaccinated with all the doses you are eligible and recommended for. 
  • Avoid crowded places for five to seven days prior to your visit.
  • Try to use every other layer available to you: wear a mask, respect physical distancing, meet outdoors if you can (open windows if indoors), wash your hands often.
  • Important: cancel the visit if you begin to feel sick!

No, and...?

  • You may still end up being close to people who are at higher risk (even if you don’t know it).
  • Be sure to be vaccinated with all the doses you are eligible and recommended for, wear your mask when needed, and ensure you are using every one of your layers.
  • Each action you take can help to protect them.
Are you vaccinated with all the doses you are eligible for 

Yes, what now?

  • Thanks for doing your part to lower the risk to yourself and those around you.
  • By the way, if anyone close to you that you care about is not up to date on their vaccinations, now’s a good time to encourage them to do so.

No, and...?

  • Please consider getting vaccinated for all the doses you are eligible and recommended for as soon as you can.
  • You can drop-in to any our of clinics for your first, second or booster dose. No appointment needed! Lean more here. (We recommend making an appointment for children under the age of five)
  • If you (or members of your household) are not vaccinated with all of the recommended doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, you are not benefitting from this layer of protection, so the other layers are even more important to use. 
Will you be able to physically distance wherever you’re going? 

Yes, what now?

  • Good. This will help create a lower risk environment.
  • Keep a mask with you in case you’re unable to keep your distance, or in case someone there asks you to mask-up for their protection.

No, and...?

  • We highly recommend that you wear a mask.
  • Crowded spaces, especially indoors, can be a higher risk setting.
Are you someone who is at higher risk from COVID-19?

Yes, what now?

  • Every single layer of protection is essential for you, each one counts.
  • The most important layer is getting vaccinated with all the doses you are eligible and recommended for.
  • Don’t hesitate to ask others to mask up when around you.
  • Please note that you may be eligible for testing and treatment options. Learn more here.

No, and...?

  • Please be mindful of those who remain at higher risk.

  • Wear your mask if they ask you to and ensure you are using every one of your layers.

  • Each action you take can help to protect them. 

Have you washed your hands with soap & water for 30 seconds recently? (p.s. if soap isn’t available, use hand sanitizer) 

Yes, what now?

  • Excellent. Thanks. This simple activity helps lower your risk.

No, and...?

  • Please. Frequent and proper hand-washing plays an important role in reducing the transmission of COVID-19 (and other viruses, btw). 

Please note:  Outdoor activities are good for both physical and mental health and usually carry a lower risk of COVID transmission than indoor activities.  

Check out the City of Ottawa's Summer Recreation Activities and Summer Cultural Activities.  

For more information on City programs and services, visit ottawa.ca or call 3-1-1 (TTY: 613-580-2401). You can also connect with us through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.  

Please consider your own risk factors before participating in any outdoor group activity. For an older person or someone with chronic medical problems, the best decision may be to focus on individual activities, like walking.  

More Details about Your Layers

Vaccination

  • Our best protection against serious illness, hospitalization and long-term impacts from COVID-19 is vaccination.
  • Booster doses are critical for lowering the risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19. Residents are encouraged to get their booster dose as soon as they are eligible. For more information visit OttawaPublicHealth.ca/Covid19Vaccine.

Masking

  • Residents should continue to wear a mask in certain settings especially indoors when physical distancing may not be possible.
  • Reminder that masks remain mandatory in Ottawa Public Health clinics and long-term care and retirement homes.
  • Important: The travel guidelines are set by the federal government and are continuously changing. Please check for current federal information here: COVID-19 Travel: Checklists for requirements and exemptions, and direct any questions to the federal COVID-19 information line at 1-833-784-4391 or phac.covid19.aspc@canada.ca
  • When using a mask, select the best quality one available to you.
  • To help protect themselves and those around them, many people may choose to wear masks in places where they are not required/mandatory. Please respect their decisions, and if you are not wearing a mask, please maintain physical distancing where possible.
  • When attending a gathering, always bring your mask with you. There may be times when others will not be comfortable being around maskless people. Or they could be at high-risk, and may ask you to put a mask on.
  • It's important to remember that wearing a mask is something we can all do to help to protect those who remain at higher risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19.

For more information visit OttawaPublicHealth.ca/Masks.

Monitoring for symptoms and staying home when sick

Residents should continue daily screening for COVID-19 symptoms for all household members and stay home when sick. For information for those who have symptoms, test positive for COVID-19 and high-risk contacts visit our web page.

As molecular testing (PCR and rapid molecular testing) is prioritized for those at increased risk of severe outcomes and those living and working in highest risk settings, molecular testing is no longer being recommended for all individuals in the community with symptoms of COVID-19. People who have symptoms or test positive on a rapid antigen test and are not eligible for molecular testing are presumed to have COVID-19 and must self-isolate. Have Rapid Antigen Tests ready for your household to use when needed. Make sure that the tests are not expired. For more information about available testing and treatment options in Ottawa visit OttawaPublicHealth.ca/CovidTesting.

Gatherings

If you are planning to have an in-person gathering, reduce your risk and that of your guests by ensuring your guests are up to date and received all recommended COVID-19 vaccine doses, including any booster dose(s). Also consider the risk of those at higher risk of serious outcomes.

  • If hosting a gathering, you can lower your risk of COVID-19 by having it outdoors.
  • If hosting an indoor gathering, reduce your risk by opening windows to ensure proper ventilation.
  • When attending a gathering, always bring your mask with you. There may be times when others will not be comfortable being around maskless people, or they could be at high-risk, and may ask you to put a mask on.
  • Do not gather if you or anyone who planned to be in attendance is sick.
  • If you plan to visit friends/family who are at a higher risk of serious COVID-19 impacts, avoid crowded spaces in the days leading up to your visit.
  • If you are at higher risk of serious COVID-19 impacts, ensure you’re being mindful of your surroundings. If you walk into a restaurant that is very crowded, consider going elsewhere or ordering in. For a crowded grocery or retail store, consider shopping at non-peak times or use curb side pick-up.

Reducing your risks at school

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