Special statements from 2021

Read the previous special statements from officials from 2021

December 31, 2021 - Special statement from Dr. Vera Etches

Hello. Bonjour. Kwey. 

With the highly transmissible Omicron variant, we know that COVID-19 activity is high and spreading rapidly in our community. We must do what we can to protect each other during this surge, especially people at higher-risk – people not yet fully vaccinated, immunocompromised individuals, older adults – and people who work in higher-risk settings.  

Today there are 1,508 new lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases in Ottawa, and 21 people are currently in hospital because of COVID-19 infection. With the current limited availability of COVID-19 testing, these numbers are an underestimate of the amount of COVID in our community. The information we have – available on the Ottawa Public Health COVID-19 Dashboard – shows us that COVID-19 transmission is increasing at an exponential rate in our community. The positivity rate in Ottawa is now over 30 per cent, a significant increase compared to the beginning of December when it was around two per cent. The wastewater COVID-19 signal is also increasing steeply. The wastewater monitoring and the number of hospitalizations are indicators that do not rely on testing. 

With so much COVID-19 in our community and reduced access to testing, we need to treat possible COVID symptoms as if they are a COVID-19 infection. New provincial guidance is shifting us to new practices in self-isolation when we have COVID-19-like symptoms, regardless of access to a rapid antigen test or PCR test. As we enter the first weeks of 2022, the message is clear: stay home if you are sick and until symptoms have resolved and stay home if a member of your household is sick. This will help protect people at risk for severe illness and slow the spread of COVID-19. 

We heard yesterday from the Province about updated public health measures to provide additional protection to higher-risk settings while continuing to preserve hospitals’ capacity. I want to assure you that Ottawa Public Health will continue to closely monitor and report on the evolving COVID-19 situation in our community and explore introducing additional public health measures.  

Over the coming weeks, everyone in Ottawa must focus on reducing transmission of COVID-19 to get to the other side of this Omicron surge with a more vaccinated, and more protected community. We have a lot of control when it comes to protecting each other, our loved ones and community to help get through this surge. For the next few weeks, regardless of your vaccination status, please:  

  • Pause or greatly limit the size of indoor gatherings with people outside of your household, including pausing participation in extracurricular indoor sports and team play  

  • Actively screen yourself and members of your household for COVID-19 symptoms, and stay home if you are sick  

  • Get children aged 5 to 11 vaccinated with first doses, and book their second doses as soon as they are eligible 

  • Book your booster dose as soon as you are able 

  • Check-in and help older adults and neighbours who may be need support if they are isolating due to illness - help them book a vaccine appointment, help them with getting food or other essentials.  

We know the process of booking booster doses has been challenging for some. The Ottawa Public Health team is working harder than ever to increase available vaccination appointments and protect our vulnerable sectors. Vaccination has saved lives and prevented hospitalizations from COVID-19 and it is continuing to do so. Over the coming weeks, we will continue to: 

We know this continues to be a challenging time for families with children in school and in childcare. Ottawa Public Health is awaiting further guidance from the Province regarding schools and looks forward to sharing this information with parents and guardians as soon as it is available. In the meantime, we ask parents and guardians to continue to actively screen children for COVID-19 symptoms, and to keep children home if sick.   

As we head into the new year, I encourage everyone to look out for one another, do your part to assess risk and proactively take actions to limit the spread of COVID-19. I know that together we will get through this surge and come out the other side. We’ve done it before and we’re doing it right now. Thank you, Ottawa for continuing to do these hard things. My best wishes for a safe, happy and healthy New Year.  

December 22, 2021 - Special statement from Dr. Vera Etches

Hello. Bonjour. Kwey.

As more people in our community and across Ontario continue to test positive for COVID-19, it’s critical we do what we can now to reduce COVID-19 transmission to protect ourselves, our families, our community, and hospital and health care capacity.

The number of people testing positive in a day is approaching the heights last seen during the curve in April this year and a very high number of high-risk contacts. As we announced last week, we continue to ask individuals who test positive to notify their high-risk contacts to advise them that they may have been exposed to COVID-19. Individuals who test positive will be contacted by Ottawa Public Health or the provincial COVID-19 Workforce and provided with information on how to inform high-risk contacts.

Testing

I know there has been frustration around accessing COVID-19 testing in Ottawa. I know residents are looking for better access to rapid antigen testing. Many of you may be using them to help make decisions about whether to gather with others over the holidays. I appreciate the interest in using all available tools to increase the safety of gatherings. We know the provincial and federal governments are working to increase supply of rapid antigen tests and we hope they will become available as soon as possible in the new year.

Ottawa's assessment centres and care clinics are working to continue to increase access to PCR testing and Ontario Health is working to bring in third party services to increase testing capacity. At this time, Ottawa’s testing sites are prioritizing health care workers with access to testing to help prevent staff shortages. Drop-ins at testing sites will be declined testing due to capacity constraints so that testing is available to essential workers and healthcare workers who need an urgent test. Our partners, the Ottawa COVID-19 Testing Taskforce oversee testing operations and report to Ontario Health. The Testing Taskforce will work in close collaboration to follow and implement any new testing criteria and guidelines outlined by the provincial government as the need for further prioritization is expected.

Without testing, which detects infection after it has occurred, we can still take steps to protect our loved ones by preventing COVID-19 transmission in the first place. The actions we take today, tomorrow and into the future matter. We know how to do this – we’ve been doing well for the last many months thanks to your actions.

Isolation guidance

Next, I would like to touch on isolation guidance. I know there is a lot of information to absorb, and the guidance does change as COVID-19 evolves and as more information becomes available from the provincial and federal governments, so please visit our website for the latest information on isolation guidance.

At this time, under updated provincial protocols for case and contact management to which Ottawa Public Health is aligning, all household contacts of individuals who test positive using a rapid antigen test or PCR test OR have COVID-like symptoms, must self-isolate for 10 days except to get tested, regardless of their immunization status. We also ask you to notify high-risk contacts.

There are some additional details and changes to the provincial approach to self-isolation for people who are high-risk contacts. Please visit our website for more detailed information on this.

Vaccine rollout

As we continue with our vaccine rollout, I want to commend the outstanding, tireless efforts of the Ottawa Public Health team, paramedics, hospitals, physicians, pharmacies, community health and resource centres, and all our health care partners for the outstanding progress we have made to date on increasing our vaccine coverage in Ottawa, and for the work that will continue over every day of the upcoming holidays.

Most of all, I want to thank Ottawa residents for stepping forward, lifting your sleeves up and doing your part to protect yourself, your loved ones and the community.

Ottawa Public Health has managed to double its vaccination capacity – now at 9,000 appointments daily in our community clinics, nearing the peak delivery in July – and is continuing to work with partners to grow that number. While we are working around the clock to increase available appointments, this will take some time.

Last Saturday, Ottawa Public Health added an additional vaccination site at the EY Centre to accommodate up to 2,700 people per day. Last weekend, we broke our own record for number of vaccines administered in one day at a community clinic.

To date, 89 per cent of Ottawa residents aged five and older have received their first dose, and 82 per cent are fully vaccinated. Sixty-four per cent of people in their 80s and older and 56 per cent of people in their 70s have their booster dose.

We will continue to work hard to increase available appointments over the next two weeks and into the new year.

As hard as it is for me to not be able to provide better news before the holidays, I know it’s even harder for you to hear it. So, for now I want to offer a little bit of hope which I am seeing in a few different forms: our team is rallying once again to ramp up vaccines. I’m seeing hope in the form of low hospitalizations for COVID right now. And hope in the knowledge that our actions now can continue to keep our loved ones out of hospital. I’m seeing hope in the form of City supports for those needing to isolate over the holidays which can be accessed by calling 3-1-1. Hope because our City, community and health care partners who have been by our side – your side – are not stopping. And hope because we are in a much better situation than we were in last year with the vaccine progress we have made.

And to our media partners: I don’t know if this is the last time we will speak before the Christmas holidays, so I wanted to take this opportunity to extend my ongoing gratitude for your coverage and reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic these last two years. I know it isn’t easy, and it’s often thankless. So, when it gets hard, please know this: your work has directly saved lives. Our residents look to you for timely and accurate information, and it is certainly not an easy task when information can change at such a rapid pace as we have experienced. On behalf of Ottawa Public Health, I sincerely thank you from the bottom of my heart for doing what you do: yesterday, today, tomorrow and beyond.

Thank you. Merci. Meegwetch.

December 17, 2021 - Special statement from Dr. Vera Etches
 Addendum
Following the media availability today with Dr. Vera Etches regarding the Letter of Instruction with new measures for Ottawa (effective Monday, December 20, 12:01 am), the Province of Ontario this afternoon announced measures to reduce transmission of COVID-19. To help clarify which measures apply here in Ottawa, as outlined by Dr. Etches today, we remind residents that the stronger measure applies for a given setting and must be followed. This means: 
  • Ottawa’s limit of six people per table in places where food and drink are served applies over the Province’s limit of 10 people per table.
  • Limit of 10 people indoors and 25 outdoors for gatherings is required as mandated by the Province.
  • Capacity limits and additional measures are effective Sunday December 19, 2021 at 12:01 am as mandated by the Province. 
  • A 50 per cent capacity limit applies in more settings as mandated by the Province of Ontario, please visit their website for the latest details.
  • The Province has mandated additional restrictions for places that serve food and beverages, requiring limited hours, no dancing and no karaoke. 
  • Places of Worship that opt-in to require proof of vaccination have capacity limit of 50 per cent per Ottawa’s Letter of Instruction. 

Yesterday, we reported that an additional 199 individuals in Ottawa have tested positive for COVID-19. Today, we are reporting 309 new cases. The rapid increase in people testing positive for COVID-19 in our community is deeply concerning. Omicron is present in Ottawa and spreading rapidly. As with other variants of COVID-19, hospitalizations and deaths are a lagging indicator, we can expect to see the impact on local hospitals in the coming weeks. The best science we have from the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table is showing we are on the worst possible curve in terms of the rate of people testing positive - and this would be followed by hospitalizations that will be hard to handle unless we take action. As the Science Advisory Table stated yesterday, waiting to take action means waiting until it is too late to take action.

That is why today, as Ottawa’s Medical Officer of Health I am issuing a Letter of Instruction (LOI) to businesses with directions for additional and immediate action to further limit the spread of COVID-19 to protect our residents and reduce the potential impact on our health care resources, and essential services. 

Effective Monday, December 20, 2021, at 12:01 am, and until further notice, capacity limits and physical distancing requirements will be reinstated in Ottawa. The following settings will have capacity and physical distancing requirements reinstated to 50 per cent, regardless of requirements to check proof of vaccination.

Impacted settings include:

  • Meeting and event spaces, including conference centres and convention centres
  • Restaurants, bars and other food or drink establishments without dance facilities
  • Personal care services, such as hair salons, barber shops, beauty salons, piercing services, tattoo studios
  • Indoor recreational amenities and indoor facilities used for sports and recreational fitness activities, including areas for spectators within those facilities
  • Indoor clubhouses affiliated with outdoor recreational amenities
  • Indoor concert venues, theatres and cinemas
  • Museums, galleries and similar attractions
  • Casinos, bingo halls and other gaming establishments
  • Indoor fairs, rural exhibitions, festival and similar events
  • Faith-based organizations and Places of worship

The total number of members of the public permitted to be in an indoor portion of the space at any one time must be limited to the number that can maintain a physical distance of at least two metres from every other person in the business or facility. In addition, these spaces must not exceed 50 per cent capacity.

There will also be additional requirements for businesses and organizations that serve food and beverages. New requirements include:

  • That patrons be seated at all times when consuming food or drink;
  • And no more than six individuals are allowed per table.

In addition to the guidance set out in the LOI, Ottawa Public Health is calling on all local employers and businesses to support employees working from home, if possible, and not to ask employees to return to a physical location for the time being.

More details regarding the Letter of Instruction are included on our Ottawa Public Health website.

We are anticipating hearing more information from the Province this afternoon And we  will provide further updates to Ottawa residents if the situation is changing. Certainly, if the Province comes out with similar recommendations, that’s positive – we think they’re needed in Ottawa, that’s why I’m speaking to you today. And if there are more restrictions, the stronger the measure will apply.

Further to the LOI, as your Medical Officer of Health I am asking each and every Ottawa resident for their cooperation and support in the coming weeks. I am strongly recommending and urging that everyone in Ottawa:

  • Keep gatherings as small as possible
  • Limit the number of people you come into close contact with
  • Suspend participation in all indoor sports and team play for the time being
  • Not attend large venues and avoid crowds. If you do choose to attend an event, wear a mask at all times

It was an extremely difficult decision to issue a Letter of Instruction at this time. There are significant impacts for businesses and individuals and we know this will cause additional stress during one of the busiest times of the year. We ask for everyone’s cooperation to support businesses, employees and patrons during this stressful time. You can support them by making purchases online including gift cards, that would be appreciated.

I recognize that there are significant delays in people being able to access testing. The spread of Omicron has overwhelmed our region’s testing resources. The Testing Taskforce is working diligently with partners to develop solutions. However, testing capacity will not keep up with this surge in COVID-19. We know we don’t need a test to protect others. If you have symptoms, you should assume you have COVID-19 and self-isolate. Similarly, your household members need to isolate regardless of your vaccination status. 

If you have been tested and are waiting for test results, isolate until you receive a negative result. Do not attend school, sports or extracurricular activities while waiting for test results. Interacting with others, and not following public health guidance can have significant ripple impacts on others in the community.

In addition to taking these actions, we are still encouraging everyone to get their first, second or third dose of vaccine. We know the demand is extremely high and we are doing everything we can to open more appointments, increase capacity and vaccinate everyone who is eligible as soon as possible.

To date, over 121,000 third doses have been administered to Ottawa residents. On Monday, an additional 634,000 people in Ottawa 18 years and older will be eligible for a third dose. While we can't completely meet the demand yet, it gives me great hope that so many individuals are actively seeking to protect themselves and their families through vaccination. We ask residents of Ottawa for their patience and understanding this weekend and in the following days as we work as fast as possible to meet the demand. The reality is that on Monday for the newly eligible 18+ population, there will likely be no or very few appointments available. Please follow Ottawa Public Health announcements on our website and on social media for the latest information on available appointments.

I acknowledge that today’s news is extremely difficult to hear, as it is to announce. If you are struggling, or need someone to talk to, I encourage you to reach out. There are resources in the community available to help you 24/7.

Please don’t give up, Ottawa. We have worked so hard over the past two years to help keep each other safe. As individuals, we do have control over the choices we make and we are not helpless in the face of Omicron. This surge, like others past, will come and go and we will make it through. Please take care of yourself and others during these difficult times. Whenever possible, take time to reach out to those you love. We are tougher than we know, and we will make it through this wave.

Thank you. Merci. Meegwetch.

December 16, 2021 - Special statement from Dr. Vera Etches

Hello. Bonjour. Kwey.

Ottawa, this is a bittersweet day, and there is a lot to unpack.

As the Chair mentioned, we just passed the one-year anniversary of the first vaccine given in Ottawa and we have accomplished a colossal feat since then. That deserves to be recognized, and I am incredibly proud of what we – you – have accomplished. Vaccination has saved lives and prevented hospitalizations and it is continuing to do so 

At the same time, we are dealing with a new obstacle – the Omicron variant.

At this point, it is safe to assume that the more transmissible Omicron variant is quickly becoming the dominant strain of COVID-19 in Ottawa. While we await more data about the virulence of this variant, we know that it will put a significant burden on our health care system.

Data shows that Omicron is significantly more transmissible than other variants, including Delta. It is putting our unvaccinated and partially vaccinated populations at risk.

The rapid difference Omicron is making is already being reflected with our case management. As announced earlier this week, our case management team is over capacity, meaning people who test positive for COVID-19 may experience delays in hearing from Ottawa Public Health. As such, we are asking individuals who test positive to notify their high-risk contacts to advise them that they may have been exposed to COVID-19. If you are a high-risk contact of someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, please isolate immediate and seek testing, regardless of your vaccination status. Updated information regarding testing and isolation can be found on our website.

And after consulting our provincial partners and fellow public health leaders, we have made the decision as a City to reactivate the City of Ottawa Emergency Operations Centre. What this means locally is under active discussion, but know this: we are working around the clock to deliver solutions, and this work will not stop.

With yesterday’s announcement from the province on expanding eligibility for a third dose of the COVID vaccine to all adults 18 and older, and a shorter dose interval for third dose, we will continue to ramp up efforts to be able to vaccinate as many people as possible, as quickly as possible. For Ottawa, this means 750,000 people - three quarters of our population - will be eligible for a third dose as of Monday. While this is a massive undertaking, we’ve done it before and we will do it again.

I know there has been some frustration among those who are currently eligible when it comes to booking appointments; I want to assure you that we are doing everything we can and we are continuing to explore options to open more appointments, increase capacity and vaccinate everyone who is eligible as soon as possible.  This means working with hospital partners to pull in additional clinical staff to provide vaccinations, temporarily reducing public health programs like our mental health and substance use health work and home visits for new parents. It’s not ideal, but that is how critical this work is right now.  

Over the last week, we have managed to double our vaccination capacity, and are continuing to work with partners to grow. I am happy to announce we have added an additional vaccination site at the EY Centre to accommodate up to 2,700 people per day, doubling our daily capacity for this weekend..  This afternoon, Ottawa Public Health released 10,600 appointments at the EY Centre and the Nepean Sportsplex Curling Rink, with appointments beginning this Saturday, December 18.

I know it may take some time to get your booster dose. Please follow Ottawa Public Health’s social media accounts for the latest information on our increased capacity and availability for appointments. For information on how to book your first, second or third dose, please visit our website.

I want to remind residents that we still have a lot of control when it comes to doing our part to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19. These are the things we have become all too used to over the last two years, and I do look forward to the day when this is no longer part of my updates. But for now, we must continue with limiting close contacts, wearing masks, maintaining physical distance and washing our hands regularly. Stay home when sick except to get tested.

Measures to limit close contacts through capacity limits are also going to be needed… we understand the province is actively considering what to implement. The Science Table and the Council of Medical Officers of Health have made it clear this week that action is needed as soon as possible. With respect to testing, many parents have come to us asking for a bit of clarity on the use of Rapid Antigen Tests in schools and over the holidays. The current use of Rapid Antigen Tests in schools is a program that is stood up whenever there is an outbreak that occurs as an added layer of screening, especially considering not everyone is fully vaccinated just yet in school settings like elementary schools. There is also a Rapid Antigen Testing program that is being rolled out and overseen by the Ontario Ministry of Education during the holidays in direct partnership with the school boards, which does not involve Ottawa Public Health. These tests are intended to be used multiple times over the course of the school holidays to screen for COVID-19. Some businesses are also making use of the supply available through the Ottawa Board of Trade. If your Rapid Antigen Test is positive, seek a confirmatory PCR test at an assessment centre right away. Testing approaches may need to change as the system capacity stretches and may reach a limit.

And as always, it is critical to remain isolated until you receive a negative COVID-19 result through the Province of Ontario’s results portal or the relevant hospital’s results portal

***

This pandemic has been long. And it will go on for a little while longer. But please, just as much as I want you to get a COVID-19 vaccine, I also want you to be kind to yourself. To check in with your friends and family, and take care of your mental health Please visit OttawaPublicHealth.ca/MentalHealth for a list of resources that could be made available to you.

Now is not the time to give up. We are in a better position than in March of 2020 when we faced a surge of COVID-19 in an unimmunized population without knowledge of all the measures that can limit COVID-19 transmission. Vaccination is building and will keep putting us in a better place to face future challenges. We can look forward to everyone having restored vaccine effectiveness against the Omicron variant with third doses and children with two doses in the very near future. Just not fast enough to enable us to gather, as usual, over the holidays. Your actions make a difference. Vos actions font une différence. And we will battle our way through this surge.

Thank you. Merci. Meegwetch.

December 13, 2021 - Special statement from Dr. Vera Etches

The emergence of the Omicron variant has led to a large increase in the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 in Ottawa. As a result, Ottawa Public Health is currently experiencing a backlog with its case and contact management system, resulting in delayed notifications to people who have tested positive for COVID-19 and their high-risk contacts. 

To address this backlog of cases, Ottawa Public Health is asking individuals who test positive for COVID-19 to self-isolate and notify your high-risk contacts immediately of your positive COVID-19 status, as there may be a delay in Ottawa Public Health contacting you. If a close contact tells you they have tested positive, please book a COVID-19 test immediately, even if fully vaccinated - do not wait for Ottawa Public Health to contact you. 

If you need to isolate from household members, stay in a separate room or stay in an isolation centre until symptoms improve and it has been at least 10 days since symptoms started (or since testing positive if you have no symptoms), or until Ottawa Public Health informs you that you can stop isolating. For information about staying in an isolation centre please call 613-580-2424 ext. 25890 or email OPHisolationcentre@ottawa.ca.  

Ottawa Public Health will continue to contact people who have tested positive for COVID-19 with information about required isolation, however this contact may be delayed due to the backlog.  

With rates of COVID-19 growing steeply in our community, Ottawa Public Health is continuing to focus on its vaccination efforts for eligible residents aged five and older, and booster doses for people aged 50 and older. Ottawa Public Health will continue following up with cases and contacts in congregate settings such as schools, long-term care homes and other health care settings. 

If you are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, do not wait a day or two days to see if your symptoms improve, book a COVID-19 test immediately and isolate until you have your results, even if you are vaccinated. 

The best way to prevent transmission of COVID-19 is to get vaccinatedbook your booster dose if eligible, and remain vigilant by practising basic public health measures including wearing a mask, maintaining physical distance, and limiting close contacts. If you are gathering with others, keep your gathering small, and assess the risk by considering everyone’s vaccination status. 

December 9, 2021 -Special statement from Dr. Vera Etches

Hello. Bonjour. Kwey.

Current monitoring indicators show a consistent and significant increase in the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 over the last week, and I am concerned. As we have seen in the past, more people testing positive will likely lead to more hospitalizations, further impacts to the health care system and possibly more deaths.

I’m also worried that if this trend continues, we will see an increase in social disruptions, including more class and school dismissals and the reintroduction of restrictions on gatherings in homes and perhaps in public settings such as restaurants and bars, cinemas, fitness facilities and other businesses. Too many people will have to be isolating for the holidays to prevent transmission of COVID-19 to their loved ones.

Our rate of infection is similar to what it was at this time last year but we are seeing more outbreaks, particularly in elementary schools and in extra-curricular settings where people are not vaccinated. The increase in outbreaks with COVID-19 introduced into schools this week has been explosive. The Science Table data points to growing challenges with higher rates of COVID-19 due to the Delta variant circulating. At the same time, we continue to learn more about the transmissibility and virulence of the Omicron variant.  

The risk is here now. What we choose to do today will make a difference in the coming weeks and months. To reduce community risk, I am urging all individuals to pause and limit certain activities before and during the holiday season, particularly indoor activities when it involves individuals who are not yet fully vaccinated and where masks are not being worn.

I cannot stress enough the importance of getting vaccinated, wearing a mask and maintaining a physical distance from others.  Daily screening before going to work or school in-person and staying home when sick and getting tested for COVID-19 are also key.  However, as testing usually detects COVID-19 after it has been transmitted further, the best way to limit passing COVID-19 on is to prevent close contacts in higher risk settings. This means limiting the number of extra-curricular activities for children who are not yet fully vaccinated, especially where masks are not worn and distancing is not practised. Now is the time to prioritize school participation for children. Avoid the three Cs - crowded places, closed spaces with poor ventilation and close contact with others from multiple households. These actions are necessary to help prevent the spread of the virus, keep kids in school and reduce the risk to our health and the social activities we have been able to enjoy once again.

***

While there is reason for concern, and to remain vigilant, there is also good news to share. More and more people are protected with vaccination. Vaccination provides good protection against ending up admitted to an intensive care unit (ICU). To date, 82 per cent of eligible residents are fully vaccinated and 87 per cent have received at least one dose. And I am incredibly pleased to see the progress we are making with our five to 11 age group: more than 40 per cent have put on a brave face, rolled up their sleeve and received their first dose. There is still a lot of capacity for children’s immunization, so please book your child’s appointment today, or simply drop-in to one of the many after-school clinics in a neighbourhood near you. The time to protect your children with vaccination is now, with rates of COVID growing very steeply in children 5-11 and with the risk of encountering COVID-19 expected to keep growing. The schedule of school-based clinics, which do not require an appointment, is on the OPH website and I encourage people to drop in as soon as they can.

I do want to caution that even with this notable progress, we won’t see a significant impact of the vaccines in schools for some time until more of this younger age group is fully vaccinated with two doses – likely in the new year, around February. Let’s keep up this progress, and we’ll get there together.

***

Modelling from the Province this week shows vaccine effectiveness in Ontario remains very high but experience in other countries suggests we will need to boost immunity with third doses. Starting Monday, December 13 at 8 am, residents born in 1971 or earlier will be able to book a third dose.

Ottawa residents who meet the criteria are also encouraged to reach out to local pharmacies using the provincial pharmacy locator to find those that provide the booster dose. Some primary care physicians are also providing third dose boosters.

I strongly recommend that residents book an appointment or drop-in to a pharmacy for a third dose as soon as they become eligible. This along with continuing to follow public health measures will help reduce the burden on our health care system in the weeks and months ahead.

***

As the holiday season continues, I want to remind all of us that our actions make a difference to keep each other safer when gathering. I know it feels like we missed out on a traditional holiday last year, and while we are in a dramatically better position this year thanks to the vaccine, we must continue to practise safer behaviours, especially when it comes to protecting people around us who are at higher risk and people who are not yet fully vaccinated.

While gatherings are currently permitted, families should consider their own unique situations when choosing to gather with others. Is there someone who may be at higher risk? What is the vaccination status of other guests? Choose ways to make gatherings safer, such as limiting the number of guests, taking activities outdoors, having hand sanitizer available, opening a window to increase ventilation. Maintain physical distance and wear a mask if indoors with someone who is not vaccinated or whose vaccination status is unknown. And as always, stay home if anyone in the household is sick, even if symptoms are mild.

***

Next, I would like to provide an update on testing.

Earlier today, the Science Table released a brief related to the use of rapid antigen tests for voluntary screen testing. Voluntary screen testing is the practice of testing asymptomatic individuals at regular intervals in settings where the risk for transmission is moderate – such as schools and workplaces. The Science Table recommends using this testing approach in elementary schools and a “test to stay” approach for individuals (contacts) in schools who have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 but do not have symptoms.  OPH looks forward to reviewing these recommendations and exploring how this would be implemented in Ottawa. More guidance to come.

The federal and provincial ministries of health are planning to offer pop-up rapid antigen test distribution sites in Ottawa. The Province has also informed us they will be providing rapid antigen test kits to families over the holiday break. These tests are an additional screening tool for asymptomatic individuals who are not known to have had contact with a case of COVID-19 and who would like to take extra precautions.

To date, two schools are using rapid antigen tests: Carson Grove Elementary School and Chapel Hill Catholic School. These are being used after students returned following school closures to help parents with an additional screening tool and to help monitor for a risk of ongoing transmission more closely. Ottawa Public Health is also currently working to offer rapid antigen tests in other schools where COVID-19 rates are high. Rapid antigen tests are for asymptomatic unvaccinated students to use while attending class - not students who have been dismissed as part of an exposed cohort or as high-risk contacts. For students that are high-risk contacts or students that have symptoms, rapid antigen tests are not appropriate; these individuals should be tested using lab-based PCR tests available from the school or at an assessment centre.

While testing and managing confirmed cases helps, that alone is not enough to reduce the spread of COVID-19. The natural time it takes for a test to be taken, processed, reported and then for people’s contacts to be reached gives time for exponential growth to occur if other precautions are not in place. Using the prevention measures I keep mentioning does make a difference, even with Delta and Omicron variants.

***

Lastly, I want residents to know that I have a lot of hope for 2022. I know the news of the new Omicron variant is causing some people to feel anxious, and after almost two years into this pandemic, we’re all feeling completely done with COVID. If there is one thing I have learned these last two years, it’s that we are braver and more resilient than we might realize, and we are stronger together.

My advice is this: find joy. Whatever that means for you. Every day, set aside time – even if it’s just a few minutes – to do something that brings you joy. For me, I have started knitting little gifts for people, and I am making sure I get outside for exercise, with a friend when possible – I never regret it.

Thank you. Merci. Meegwetch.

November 28, 2021 - Special statement from Dr. Vera Etches
The government of Ontario today announced two individuals in Ottawa tested positive for the COVID-19 Omicron variant with recent travel from Nigeria. Ottawa Public Health is conducting case and contact management and the individuals are self-isolating. 

Ottawa Public Health follows up directly with all individuals diagnosed with COVID-19 and their close contacts. To protect the privacy of the individual, Ottawa Public Health cannot disclose additional information about any case of COVID-19.

Ottawa Public Health is working with the Province to monitor COVID-19 variants of concern including Delta and Omicron.

To reduce the transmission of the Omicron variant and out of an abundance of caution, Ottawa Public Health advises individuals who have been in Nigeria, South Africa, Mozambique, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini, and Namibia, within 14 days before arriving in Ottawa, AND members of their households to:

  1. Immediately self-isolate even if fully vaccinated. Follow federal guidance, and any additional guidance provided by Ottawa Public Health if contacted.
  2. Seek testing for COVID-19 at one of Ottawa’s assessment centres regardless of whether they have symptoms. Federal guidance at this time is for testing to occur immediately upon arrival and eight days after arrival.
  3. Isolate from household members. For example, stay in a separate room or stay in an isolation centre until receiving a negative test result. For information about staying in an isolation centre please call 613-580-2424 ext. 25890 or email OPHisolationcentre@ottawa.ca.

We know that this information may be concerning for some individuals. If you have questions or need help with this guidance, please contact Ottawa Public Health by email: healthsante@ottawa.ca or by phone: 613-580-6744, Monday to Friday, 8:30 am to 4:30 pm. If calling after hours, please leave a voicemail message with your contact information and a public health nurse will return your call the following day during business hours.

The best way to prevent transmission of COVID-19 is to get vaccinated and remain vigilant by practising basic public health measures including wearing a mask, maintaining physical distance, and limiting close contacts. If you are gathering with others, assess the risk by considering everyone’s vaccination status.

In the coming days, we may see an increase in the number of people testing positive because of transmission of the Omicron variant in Ottawa. It is important to remember that this is not a new virus and that the public health measures that we practise will help reduce the spread of the Omicron variant. If you are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, do not wait a day or two days to see if your symptoms improve and book a COVID-19 test immediately.

November 19, 2021 - Special statement from Dr. Vera Etches

Dear Ottawa residents,

Ottawa Public Health welcomes today’s news that Health Canada has authorized the COVID-19 vaccine for children ages five to 11. I am excited about this major turning point in our fight against the novel coronavirus and its highly transmissible variants.

We know parents and guardians are eager to immunize their children to protect them from COVID-19 and reduce disruptions to in-person learning and other activities. Ottawa Public Health yesterday released more details of its plan to immunize this age group. We are ready to make vaccination as easy as possible for your children and family. Vaccine appointments for children ages five to 11 are not yet available. More information for this age group, including how to book appointments through the provincial booking system, will be coming soon.

As a mom, I am excited to bring my children to the clinics so that they can be protected with COVID-19 vaccines. I want to encourage parents and guardians with questions to speak to your health care provider, your local pharmacist, or contact Ottawa Public Health to speak to a public health nurse to learn more about the vaccine and the importance of getting your children vaccinated.

And a message to the children of Ottawa - we look forward to welcoming you to our clinics. Feel free to bring your favourite teddy bear and to eat a healthy snack ahead of time. Our wonderful team of nurses are trained to make your visit as comfortable as possible. I wish it were possible for me to come thank each and every one of you for getting the vaccine, but for now, know that the choice you make matters. Thank you for contributing to Ottawa’s community immunity.

November 18, 2021 - Special statement from Dr. Vera Etches

Hello. Bonjour. Kwey.

We are turning another corner in our COVID-19 response as we anticipate approval for the vaccine for children aged five to 11 in the coming days.

Earlier today, Ottawa Public Health released more details on the plan to vaccinate children in this age group.

First, I want to address a question I have heard from many parents: should I get a COVID-19 vaccine for my child, or should I wait?

My answer is this: Once the vaccine is approved for those aged five to 11, which we anticipate very soon, don’t wait. Only vaccines that are proven to be safe, effective and of high quality are authorized for use in Canada.

COVID-19 rates are highest and growing in this age group in Ottawa right now, with introduction of COVID-19 into schools leading to disruption in learning and work for many families.

Once approved for children five to 11, booking appointments will be done through the provincial booking system and not through Ottawa Public Health. Appointments for this age group are not yet available but we want parents and caregivers to know that this information is coming soon.

When it comes to where your child can be vaccinated, a variety of options will be available.

In addition to the currently operating community vaccine clinics, three more community clinics will begin operations to accommodate additional demand for COVID-19 vaccines once this age group is approved. More information on clinic locations can be found on our website.

And, within the first week of receiving vaccine supply, Ottawa Public Health will open after-hours school pop-up vaccination clinics at different schools over four weeks. The after-school pop-up clinics will have capacity to immunize up to 10,000 children per week. A total of 73 after-hours school pop-up vaccination clinics will operate on a staggered schedule over four weeks across the city to make getting the vaccine easier for children and their families who may not be able to use the provincial booking system or travel to a community clinic.

And, families may bring their children at the same time if they make an appointment for one child.

Now, to parents and caregivers: I want to assure you that no child will be given a vaccine without your consent. Parents know their children best and our role is to provide the information required for them to make an informed decision. We do recommend that anyone that is eligible to get a vaccine do so.

School clinics will be held after school hours and no child will be given a vaccine without parental consent. We understand that parents will have questions about the vaccine. Please visit our website for the most up to date information about the COVID vaccine for children. We are turning information parents shared with us into a frequently asked questions section with answers that will be fleshed out as we get the details from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization that is examining the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine in context with the risks to children from COVID-19 infection. As well, our nurses will be available to answer your questions by phone or in school environments and at the vaccine clinics.

For more information, please visit OttawaPublicHealth.ca/ChildCOVID19Vaccine.

***

Ottawa, you have been exceptional when it comes to our vaccination rates. Currently, 88 per cent of the eligible population has been fully vaccinated.

That deserves to be recognized.

And while this number will go down temporarily as we expand eligibility, I have every confidence that our vaccine coverage rates will head right back up in the weeks and months following approval.

***

In recent weeks, Ottawa’s assessment centres and care clinics have seen a growing trend of residents seeking a COVID-19 test five or six days into experiencing symptoms. Opting out or delaying testing adds up to a growing risk of community spread of COVID-19 and added pressures on the health care system.

If you are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, do not wait a day or two days to see if your symptoms improve. Book a COVID-19 test immediately.

Visit OttawaPublicHealth.ca/CovidTesting to book an appointment to get tested as soon as possible. If a test is needed for a school-aged person, they are available in each school.

***

And lastly, I know many people have started thinking about the holidays and gathering with loved ones, myself included. While we are in a much different situation than we were this time last year, especially as we prepare to vaccinate younger children, I want to caution everyone to proceed with vigilance this holiday season.

Assess the risk of those with whom you are gathering. Consider everyone’s vaccination status. If you choose to attend a larger gathering with others, maintain a physical distance and wear a mask when this might be difficult. Other things we can do include holding activities outdoors, and opening doors and windows every so often to increase ventilation. Information on safer gatherings can be found on our website.

Thank you. Merci. Meegwetch.

October 28, 2021 - Special statement from Dr. Brent Moloughney

Hello. Bonjour. Kwey.

While the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 in Ottawa remains relatively steady, we continue to see COVID transmission in situations where people are starting to let their guard down by not wearing masks, not maintaining physical distancing or not staying home when sick. We are seeing evidence of this particularly in workplaces, sport settings and social gatherings.

Yesterday, Ottawa Public Health released the latest example of a cluster that occurred as a result of an individual who participated in an outdoor sports game without masking or distancing, and along with another individual, attended an indoor social gathering after they had developed symptoms. One also attended school after developing symptoms. And both later tested positive for COVID-19. This led to at least 26 people testing positive for COVID-19 and 247 high-risk contacts. In this case, all individuals confirmed to have COVID-19 had not been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, though all met age-based eligibility criteria for vaccination.  The drivers of this cluster of transmission are not unique and result in significant disruption to schools, businesses, and families and can be avoided by adhering to public health measures such as masking when in close contact with others, staying home and seeking testing when you have symptoms, and of course getting your COVID-19 vaccine once you are eligible.

As more restrictions are gradually lifted, it may be tempting to let our guards down. Let me be clear: the pandemic is not over; in fact, many European countries who have lifted almost all restrictions are currently experiencing a resurgence.

COVID-19 is still present in the community and many cannot yet be immunized. It is important to continue to be cautious in our everyday activities to help reduce transmission of COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses. This means continuing to follow public health guidelines currently in place, including wearing a mask and maintaining a distance around others – especially indoors. It means limiting our close contacts and keeping gatherings small. It means continued daily screening for COVID-19 symptoms and staying home when sick and getting tested right away. And it means getting fully vaccinated as soon as you are eligible. Every person fully vaccinated reduces the risk of impact on our hospitals and our ICUs and keeps levels of COVID-19 in the community and in our schools low.

We are awaiting approval of the COVID-19 vaccine for children aged five to 11, once Health Canada completes their review of the effectiveness and safety of the vaccine. OPH is ready to implement its plan to vaccinate this age group once the vaccine is approved and supply is received.

We have been planning for the rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations for this age group in consultation with various stakeholders. OPH has explored different scenarios to facilitate effective and expedient vaccination for this age group. These scenarios include options to increase staffing, increasing community and neighbourhood clinics and communicating with children and families about their options to get vaccinated.  We are also exploring ways to ensure our clinic operations are as welcoming as possible for families and expanding clinic hours to the weekend and after-school .

Ottawa Public Health is here to support parents and caregivers in making informed decisions about vaccination for children. More information on our plan for this age group will be provided in the coming days. In the meantime, please visit our website for more information.

A third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine is now available to certain populations most at risk of serious illness. Information on current eligibility, recommended intervals and requirements for a third dose is available on our website.

Drop-in vaccinations are available for third doses at any community clinicpop-up clinic, or clinic in Ottawa.  Please check our website for a list of clinic locations and hours of operation.

Residents of long-term care homes, retirement homes, elder care lodges and elderly living in other congregate settings are also being offered a third dose of vaccination

Earlier this week, appointment booking began for flu vaccinations at Ottawa Public Health  community vaccine clinics for parents with children ages six months to two years old and their immediate families and for people experiencing barriers to getting the flu vaccine.

These barriers include:

  • Being a newcomer to Canada
  • Having no Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP card)
  • Having no primary care provider, such as a doctor or nurse and those who have had difficulty accessing the vaccine at a pharmacy

Starting in November, all Ottawa residents can receive their flu vaccine through their local participating pharmacy or family doctor and we strongly encourage them to do so.

For more information on where to receive your flu vaccine this year, visit OttawaPublicHealth.ca/Flu.

Lastly, some final advice for those planning to participate in Halloween festivities this weekend. If you plan to host or attend a social gathering, please keep it small. Keep windows open, have plenty of hand sanitizer available, do not share food or drinks and consider the vaccination status of those in attendance. If you are not yet fully vaccinated, maintain distance from others and wear a mask, especially when indoors.

If you choose to give out treats:

  • Keep interactions with trick-or-treaters brief
  • Wear a face covering when physical distancing cannot be maintained
  • Don’t set out a communal bowl for children to reach into and consider contactless candy distribution by using tongs
  • Clean your hands often throughout the evening using soap and water or hand sanitizer

And for our trick-or-treaters:

  • Be creative and build the face covering into your costume. But remember: a costume mask is not a substitute for a face covering
  • Do not crowd the doorway
  • Use hand sanitizer often especially before touching your face

And for everyone: continue daily screening before and after your event. Stay home if you are sick, even if symptoms are mild. And assess your risk before engaging in day-to-day activities – for Halloween and beyond. Visit OttawaPublicHealth.ca/SocialWise for more information.

I want to wish everyone a safe and Happy Halloween weekend.

Thank you. Merci. Meegwetch.

October 15, 2021 - Letter to parents of school-aged children from Dr. Vera Etches

Dear parents, guardians and families,

I am writing to share my assessment that the pandemic situation is improving and to thank you for continuing to do what is needed to keep children and youth in school this fall. In-person learning makes such a difference for the well-being of children, youth and families.

My outlook this fall is one of cautious optimism. I am hopeful that we can continue to have safer spaces to learn and work. Almost 90 per cent of people 12 and older have the protection of vaccines and so very few people are requiring hospitalization with severe COVID-19 illness now. Yet, a number of children remain unvaccinated and COVID-19 rates are highest in children five-11 years old. I know it can be concerning when you hear of COVID-19 cases in schools. We need your help to keep outbreaks rare and limited, so children and youth do not miss in-person school by having to stay home after an exposure to COVID-19.

How to keep your children as safe as possible

While many parents and guardians now have the protection of vaccination, it is still very important for families to continue to be cautious and keep choosing actions that make COVID-19 transmission to children and youth less likely.  The most common source of COVID-19 infections for children and youth are household members.  Daily screening for COVID-19 symptoms, physical distancing, limiting the number of close contacts we have, wearing a mask when indoors or in close contact with others, getting vaccinated if eligible and staying home and getting tested when sick or identified as a high-risk contact continue to be very important. Ottawa Public Health (OPH)’s online screening tool supports your daily screening. Please follow the guidance from the screening tool, including instructions on when to keep your child home from school and when to seek COVID-19 testing. Screening and testing help ensure that COVID-19 is not brought into schools.

Limiting close contacts, especially for unvaccinated children and youth, means:

  • limiting the number of extra-curricular activities where there are different groups in close contact,
  • choosing outdoor activities as much as possible,
  • avoiding prolonged and unmasked indoor exposures such as sleepovers, and
  • keeping social activities outside of school to smaller groups to make follow-up easier if there is a COVID-19 exposure.

Increasing testing options for you and your family

There are many new options for parents and guardians to seek COVID-19 testing for their children and their families, in addition to the COVID-19 Assessment and Care Centres. We have included a table at the end of this letter to summarize additional testing options in Ottawa; school take-home test kits – now available in every school for students when testing is needed, appointment-based ‘Do-It-Yourself’ test kits and we are working on Rapid Antigen Testing as another option. For more information on testing, visit OttawaPublicHealth.ca/COVIDtesting.

Vaccines for children ages five to 11 are coming

In the weeks to come, we anticipate announcements from the federal and provincial governments that will make COVID-19 vaccine available for children aged five to 11. I know families will have questions about the vaccines and we are working with community partners to make sure that you have all the information you need when COVID-19 vaccines are available for your children. Planning is underway, and we will be ready to offer approved vaccines when they are supplied to us.

I urge everyone who is eligible for their COVID-19 vaccine to get fully vaccinated. This will help to protect you, your family and the community. The higher the vaccination rates are in our community, the better chance we have of protecting those around us and keeping COVID-19 levels in the community and schools low.  My goal for Ottawa is to have at least 90% of our eligible population vaccinated. Vaccination can also help to reduce the burden on families; it helps parents and guardians get to work and students stay in class. When parents, guardians and students are fully vaccinated, they most often do not need to isolate after being exposed to COVID-19.

Communicating with you and your family

You may have received letters about people testing positive for COVID-19 in your child’s school. OPH investigates all situations where someone in school tests positive. We work closely with the school to determine high risk contacts and to quickly communicate with parents and guardians of students who are directly affected. Usually, high risk contacts are limited to one cohort dismissed in relation to one person testing positive, but sometimes multiple cohorts can be affected due to a bus or recess exposure, for example. Rest assured OPH uses the most cautious approach when deciding who is a high-risk contact. The data supports that public health measures in schools are limiting spread: when one person tests positive in a school, it usually stops there.

When there is an outbreak of COVID-19 at a school, the number of children affected is usually two to three. OPH will respond quickly with targeted approaches to prevent wider spread. OPH may recommend school-wide testing and/or school closure if we think there could already be wider spread across different cohorts/classes; we are finding larger outbreaks can happen with multiple different introductions of COVID-19 into the school from household and community sources. If your household is directly affected, you will receive the information you need from OPH on the next steps you and your family members need to take. Please follow the directions given and seek testing if advised.

As a parent or guardian, you need information so you can send your child to school and respond if COVID-19 affects your family. I am committed to making sure your family has that information in a clear, accessible and transparent way.  Feedback from parents helps us improve our communications.

Reaching out for help

As the pandemic continues, I am aware that many families continue to struggle. This has not been easy.  You are not alone. Please reach out if you need help. Call 2-1-1 or visit 211Ontario.ca to find out about financial and social support during COVID-19. If you need immediate help, call The Ottawa Distress Line/ Help Line at 613-238-3311 or The Mental Health Crisis Line at 613-722-6914.

We also have a number of resources on our website; OttawaPublicHealth.ca/COVID19 and OttawaPublicHealth.ca/SchoolsCOVID19. You can also call our Ottawa Public Health Information Centre at 613-580-6744 to speak to a public health nurse.

I want to thank you and your children for your understanding and resilience. Over the last 18 months, I have asked the children, parents and guardians of Ottawa to do hard things to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and I want to thank you for the sacrifices you have made. Please know OPH is here to support you, your children and our schools. We work closely with school staff who have displayed incredible dedication in the most challenging of situations.  We are all working together to reduce COVID-19 transmission to keep children in school and keep healthy in both mind and body.

Sincerely,

Dr. Vera Etches, MD, MHSc, CCFP, FRCPC

Medical Officer of Health
Ottawa Public Health

Summary of NEW testing options:

In addition to COVID-19 Assessment Centre appointment-based PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) testing, there are other testing options available for students, school staff and their families. Visit OttawaPublicHealth.ca/COVIDtesting for more information and other forms of testing available in the community (including pharmacy and travel testing).

Summary of new testing options
WhatWhoHow
School take-home testing kits (PCR)  School staff, students and household members who develop symptoms or who are identified as high-risk contacts An OPH and CHEO partnership to offer free take-home PCR COVID-19 testing kits. The take-home test kits include a combined mouth and nose swab that a child or adult can do themselves, or that can be done by a parent/guardian or caregiver. The kit - which is provided by the school - includes instructions, registration form and PCR swab test.

All take-home testing kits can be returned to your child’s school during school hours or to the following Assessment and Care Centres during operating hours:

  • CHEO Assessment Centre at Brewer Park Arena (151 Brewer Way, Ottawa)
  • COVID-19 Care and Testing Centre - Ray Friel location (1585 Tenth Line, Orleans)
  • COVID-19 Care and Testing Centre - Moodie location (595 Moodie Drive, Ottawa)
School take-home testing is not a ‘rapid result’ form of testing. Tests are returned to a lab for assessment just like if you were tested at an assessment centre. Results are usually available in 24-48 hours.
School wide use of take-home testing kits (PCR) All staff, students and symptomatic household members of a specific school (Only offered in specific situations) 

School-wide PCR testing may be recommended for schools in outbreak if there is evidence of two or more cohorts in outbreak, if one cohort in outbreak may have exposed other cohorts, or if a substantial proportion of the school population has been dismissed due to potential exposure.

Testing is offered to a larger group that may include all staff, students and possibly household members.
If school-wide testing is an option at your school, you will be invited to participate and be given detailed instructions. Testing kits may be sent home with students OR can be picked up at the school. Results are usually available in 24-48 hours.

Do-It-Yourself Test Kits – PCR  (by appointment)  Children two months of age and older who have symptoms  By appointment through CHEO- Brewer Park Arena location. Parents can test children two months of age and older who have symptoms or have been identified as a high-risk contact, using a PCR test. Older children and teens can test themselves with parental support. This service is not available for adults through CHEO.

CHEO manages the online appointment booking system and booking form. To book an appointment visit OttawaPublicHealth.ca/COVIDtesting where the form can be found.

The kit includes instructions, registration form and self-swab PCR test. Once complete, the test kit is then dropped off at Brewer arena for processing at the lab. (not a ‘rapid result’ form of testing). Results are usually available in 24-48 hours.

Rapid antigen testing Asymptomatic (no symptoms), and unvaccinated children and adults

This voluntary testing program from the Ministry of Health is for targeted use in certain schools and child-care settings. This form of testing provides results in 15-20 minutes. OPH is working with partners to explore how to implement this program in Ottawa schools. This method does not replace PCR testing when there is a greater risk of COVID-19 infection, such as for people with symptoms or who are high risk contacts (testing at an assessment centre, school take home testing kits are available for these situations). If a positive result is received on rapid antigen testing, follow up PCR testing is required to confirm the result as some positive results are “false positives”.

More information will be shared when the program is available in Ottawa.

 

October 6, 2021 – Special statement from Dr. Vera Etches

Ottawa continues to hold relatively steady when it comes to most COVID-19 monitoring indicators. The seven-day average for new people testing positive is about 19. The local estimate of the reproduction number hovers around one, hospitalizations remain stable and the positivity rate in the community is less than two per cent.

We are getting closer to achieving our goal of fully vaccinating 90-plus per cent of eligible residents in Ottawa. To date, 89 per cent of Ottawa residents born in 2009 or earlier have received one dose and 84 per cent are fully vaccinated.

As we continue to navigate the COVID-19 response, Ottawa Public Health is working with partners on additional measures to help reduce transmission in the community with a focus on children and youth where rates are higher. Caution is still warranted with the number of close contacts unvaccinated children and youth have each day.

Increasing accessibility to COVID-19 testing in schools: Take-home testing kits

Testing and tracing alone is not sufficient to keep COVID-19 under control, though diagnosing COVID-19 through testing does help to identify areas of risk for transmission and to limit further spread.

To address the increased demand for testing in schools, Ottawa Public Health, along with our partners at CHEO, has been offering free take-home testing kits for students and staff at schools in Ottawa – the first municipality to do so in Ontario. These kits include a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test that can replace a visit to an assessment centre. They are offered to students and staff who develop symptoms of COVID-19 or are identified as a high-risk contact and will be available in all schools this week. The take-home test kits include a combined mouth and nose swab that is easily administered and non-invasive.

Where there is concern of an outbreak, whole-school testing may be required to investigate transmission between cohorts. Take-home PCR tests are being made available to all staff and students. These PCR tests are the same as what are used when people book an appointment for a test at an assessment centre.

Increasing accessibility to COVID-19 testing in schools: Rapid antigen screening

Yesterday, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore announced new guidance for targeted use of voluntary rapid antigen screening in certain schools and licensed childcare settings at the discretion of public health units. The Ministry of Health has indicated that rapid antigen tests will be available and can play a role in school screening where there is higher risk of transmission, adding to the tools available to us to help detect and control COVID-19 in our schools and community. Rapid antigen screening does not replace a PCR test for those with symptoms or who are high risk contacts – PCR testing through the take-home test kits program or through the assessment centre is still required.

Ottawa Public Health is working with Ontario Health, the Ministry of Education, local school boards, and parents to explore how to best use this new rapid antigen screening tool and implement this program in targeted schools and childcare facilities to test unvaccinated asymptomatic individuals.

We look forward to sharing further details as we learn more from the Province on the implementation of this program. We expect more information to be available for parents, schools, and the community in the coming days.

Practising COVID-19 prevention measures, daily symptom screening for all children and youth attending school and appropriate testing are critical to keeping COVID-19 out of our schools.

Letter of Instruction for coaches, volunteers and officials in organized sports

As an increased measure, to help protect unvaccinated children and youth at higher risk for COVID-19 transmission, this morning I issued a Letter of Instruction to coaches, volunteers and officials in indoor organized sports advising of new vaccine requirements. Starting October 9 at 12:01 am, coaches, officials and volunteers directly supporting an organized team sport who enter facilities used for sport and recreational fitness activities must show proof of vaccination (or proof of having a medical exemption).

We know that key risk factors for COVID-19 transmission include close contact, closed spaces, crowded places, prolonged exposure and forceful exhalation, all of which are prevalent with indoor organized sport activities. Requiring these individuals to be fully vaccinated provides enhanced protection for our community – especially children who are not yet eligible for a vaccine – and further reduces additional risk associated with indoor organized sports. 

A crucial element to mitigating the risk COVID-19 poses to our community is high vaccination rates. With a resurgence in cases, fuelled by the Delta variant, that is leading to children and youth missing school due to isolation for high-risk contacts, it is important to implement measures to continue to keep our communities safe. That means limiting close contacts between cohorts in school at recess and lunch breaks and carefully considering the number of contacts unvaccinated children and youth have outside of school. Our goals continue to be to keep COVID-19 levels manageable for our hospitals and to keep our children in school.

For those who wish to learn more about the Letter of Instruction, Dr. Brent Moloughney, Deputy Medical Officer of Health with Ottawa Public Health and Marcia Morris from the Ottawa Sport Council will be hosting a town hall on Friday, October 8 from 1 to 2 pm. Details and a link to register can be found on OttawaPublicHealth.ca.

***

This weekend many of us are celebrating Thanksgiving, a time when we would normally gather with family and friends to share a meal, give thanks and enjoy one another’s company. This year, I remind everyone to exercise caution when planning social gatherings. Make things safer by keeping activities outdoors when possible, keep gatherings small, limit close contacts, wear a mask and make sure hand sanitizer is readily available. Consider the vaccination status of attendees and the vulnerability of people who have not yet been or are unable to be vaccinated.

And while the weather forecast for this weekend looks a little bit grey, my outlook for fall remains bright. I want to thank everyone for continuing to help us get closer to community immunity and reduce COVID-19 transmission so we can all enjoy a season that feels a little bit closer to normal.

Wishing you and your loved ones a safe and Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, September 29, 2021 – Special statement from Dr. Vera Etches

Hello. Bonjour. Kwey.

I’d like to thank two of our hospital and testing partners, Dr. Alan Forster and Dr. Ken Farion for joining me today to discuss the importance of daily COVID-19 screening before daycare, school and work and to discuss how Ottawa is responding to increased demand for COVID-19 testing.

First, I would like to acknowledge that tomorrow – September 30 – is the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation to honour the lost children and survivors of residential schools, their families and communities. This is an opportunity for everyone to reflect on the role we all play in helping Ottawa become a safer and more respectful community, free of stigma and discrimination, while walking the path of Reconciliation. I encourage you to take time to recognize and reflect on the importance of this day. Personally, I will be wearing my orange shirt, and using public library storybooks to raise my family’s awareness of the strengths of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples and the challenges that remain to achieve fair opportunities for all.

At our most recent Ottawa Board of Health meeting, the board received and approved a new report which outlines how Ottawa Public Health is working toward Truth and Reconciliation. To learn more about OPH’s commitment towards Reconcili-Action, please visit our website to review that report.

***

The latest COVID-19 monitoring indicators tell us that Ottawa is holding steady when it comes to people testing positive for COVID. The local estimate of the reproduction number is just below 1, per cent positivity in the community sits at 2.3 per cent and hospitalizations are relatively stable.

In-person learning has been underway for more than a month in Ottawa. More school-aged children are attending school in person and more are testing positive than last year, likely reflecting higher rates in the community. The number of outbreaks has not kept pace with the higher number of children testing positive, suggesting transmission in schools is being limited with measures in place. We are monitoring trends and sources of exposure to consider if additional measures are needed. What concerns me most is the percentage of children who test positive who have been in school while symptomatic and the high number of high-risk contacts within schools and across social networks.

This means there has been an increasing demand for COVID-19 testing, particularly among school-aged children. And it means more people have to stay home from school and work.

We need to limit community transmission of COVID-19 from entering our schools. Parents and caregivers, please continue daily screening of children using Ottawa Public Health’s online screening tool. Please follow the guidance from the screening tool, if advised to do so, please do NOT send your child to school and seek testing right away.

There are many options for parents to seek testing for children which my hospital colleagues will speak to shortly. OPH is working with testing partners to facilitate having take-home test kits for students, staff and family members in all schools within a week.

COVID-19 vaccine eligibility for children aged five to 11 is on the horizon, but we’re not there yet. In addition to maintaining public health measures like physical distancing, limiting close contacts, wearing a mask around others and staying home when sick, the best way we can help protect children who are not yet eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine is for those who are eligible to get vaccinated.

***

I know many people have started to plan for Thanksgiving and other opportunities to gather with loved ones. Fall is here, and even though we will hopefully have some pleasant weather ahead, people are starting to move indoors.

This Thanksgiving and in the weeks ahead, I encourage everyone to exercise caution when planning social gatherings. Make things safer by keeping activities outdoors when possible, keep gatherings small, limit close contacts, wear a mask and make sure hand sanitizer is readily available. Consider the vaccination status of attendees and the vulnerability of people who have not yet been or are unable to be vaccinated. My family and I are looking forward to some distanced outdoor visits with our neighbours, a hike nearby and cooking dinner together.

***

My outlook for this fall is one of cautious optimism. I am hopeful that we can avoid further lockdowns, serious illness or death and overwhelming our health care system if we continue with the current public health measures in place. More protection is coming through increased vaccination of younger populations, and we will eventually get closer to what life looked like before the pandemic. Let’s all do our part to get there as safely as possible. Until then, my deep thanks to everyone for continuing to get vaccinated and choosing safer activities.

Thank you. Merci. Meegwetch.

Thursday, September 2, 2021 – Special statements from Dr. Vera Etches and Dr. Brent Moloughney

Dr. Vera Etches

Hello. Bonjour. Kwey.

Over the last several days, we have seen an increase in the number of people testing positive for COVID-19. Over the last seven days, 207 more people have tested positive for COVID-19. Per cent positivity over the last week has been higher than it has been in months. The level of the virus we are seeing in wastewater continues to fluctuate. And what is perhaps most worrisome, hospitalizations are up.

We are experiencing a resurgence in Ontario that is largely driven by the highly transmissible Delta variant.

Yesterday, our epidemiology team released the latest breakdown of people testing positive for COVID and hospitalizations for COVID-19 by vaccine status. We know that the rate of new people testing positive among the unvaccinated population who are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine is 41.3 per 100,000 while the rate of new cases among those fully vaccinated is 2.7 per 100,000. This means that the risk of COVID-19 infection among the unvaccinated population who are eligible for a vaccine is 15 times higher than it is for the fully vaccinated population.

We’d love to see the unvaccinated population become protected with the vaccine.

The good news is that we continue to make progress on our vaccine rollout. To date, 79 per cent of those born in 2009 or earlier are fully vaccinated. This represents 69 per cent of the total population in Ottawa. Ottawa Public Health continues to work hard to reach the remaining eligible population to remove barriers, address questions and make accessing a vaccine as easy and convenient as possible.

We understand there is hesitancy. There is a lot of disinformation. People have questions and we are here to help answer them.

If you haven’t yet been vaccinated, the vaccine clinics teams will be very happy to see you.

This work is reflected in the latest update on vaccination coverage by neighbourhood that was published yesterday. Since our initial report which included data as of August 2, we are seeing improvements for both first and second dose vaccination coverage across all Ottawa neighbourhoods. In August alone, we saw an increase of seven percentage points in full vaccination coverage and 22 neighbourhoods saw an eight or nine percentage point increase in full vaccination coverage. To see the vaccination coverage data by neighbourhood, visit neighbourhoodstudy.ca.

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Ottawa Public Health is supportive of policies that increase immunization coverage in our city. We support the Province’s announcement to require proof of vaccination to access certain businesses and settings services as outlined in the provincial announcement. 

All Ontario residents who have received two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine currently have access to a paper or PDF vaccine receipt that includes all relevant information to prove that they are fully vaccinated. Individuals can provide proof of immunization by downloading or printing their vaccine receipt from the provincial booking portal, or by calling the Provincial Vaccine Booking Line at 1-833-943-3900. You can also visit a Neighbourhood Vaccination Hub if you don’t have access to a printer – our OPH staff will be happy to help you.

If you need a vaccine, Ottawa Public Health offers vaccine clinics daily at community clinics, and Neighbourhood Vaccination Hubs. No appointments necessary. Visit our website for more information.

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Our goals remain: to decrease death and we see the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines in achieving this! We’re aiming to keep a functioning healthcare system for all healthcare needs, and to avoid the societal disruption of schools closing and a lockdown.  

Approaching September with caution is key. In addition to getting fully vaccinated, we can achieve our goals by maintaining the public health measures we have come to know so well, and by choosing safer activities. This means:

  • Gathering in well-ventilated areas, especially outdoors
  • Keeping gatherings small
  • Avoiding large crowds where masking and distancing can’t be maintained

While the latest COVID-19 numbers and modelling are concerning, I am hopeful. I am hopeful because I’ve seen us beat the odds before. I’ve seen Ottawa persevere. I’ve seen you come together as a community, while staying two metres apart, to support one another. The Delta variant is presenting challenges, but we have learned a lot in the last 18 months. We have the tools, knowledge and resilience to get through this next phase.

Thank you. Merci. Meegwetch.

 

Dr. Brent Moloughney

The Province’s announcement to require proof of vaccination is another step that will help us get to at least 90 per cent vaccination coverage in Ottawa, as well as reduce the risk of transmission in higher risk settings. This new policy will cover those who attend and access certain businesses and services.

In addition to the provincial announcement about vaccine certificates, another type of policy that will help reduce transmission of COVID-19 is about promoting vaccine coverage among employees in workplaces. When it comes to businesses and workplaces, Ottawa Public Health strongly recommends that all Ottawa employers implement workplace vaccination policies for staff to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission. To support this recommendation, we have released guidance, available on our website, to assist employers in the development and implementation of their workplace vaccination policies as part of their COVID-19 safety planning.    

Employers have a responsibility to maintain a safe work environment for their employees. Supporting employees to get fully vaccinated is the best way to help protect them from the risks of COVID-19, prevent outbreaks and build confidence in the workplace as we face a more transmissible, Delta-fuelled resurgence in our community. 

When developing a vaccine policy, employers should continuously assess the risk of transmission at the workplace by considering several factors. For example:

  • Are workers required to be in close contact with others in their place of work or while performing their work duties?
  • Can workers keep at least two metres apart while performing their work?
  • How long and how often are workers in close contact with other workers or customers?
  • What is the size of your workforce and does your workforce have a high vaccination rate?

Ottawa Public Health has used a similar approach in the development of our own workplace vaccination policy. For our organization, we considered: the vulnerability of many of our clients to whom we provide direct services; the need to maintain our operations throughout a resurgence; and, the effectiveness of vaccination compared to relying on testing. As such, we are updating our existing Employee Immunization Policy to include the new requirement for all OPH employees to provide proof of full vaccination against COVID-19.

Supports are available for vaccination in workplaces, community organizations, places of worship and other groups that can contact Ottawa Public Health to request a mobile vaccination team to administer first and second doses of the COVID-19 vaccine on-site at their own location.   Please visit our website or call 613-580-6744 to request a mobile vaccination team.

Of course, in addition to implementing a vaccine policy, workplaces must continue to review and update their COVID-19 safety plans  as required. This is particularly important considering the changing context due to the Delta variant. More information on COVID-19 safety plans can be found on our website dedicated to businesses and workplaces. 

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I have heard from some parents and guardians who are concerned about a return to in-person learning and, like us, want to ensure a return to school that is as safe as possible. Layers of protective measures will again be important this year. This includes daily screening, masking, distancing, and investigation and control measures if someone with COVID-19 has been at school.  I want to remind parents and caregivers to continue daily screening for COVID-19 symptoms. Ottawa Public Health is currently updating our screening tool, following provincial changes. In the meantime, parents can use the Province’s school and childcare screening tool.

Screening will be a little bit different this year. The Ontario government recently removed some COVID-19 symptoms from their screening tool, including having a runny nose or sore throat. The symptoms that remain on the tool include fever and/or chills, cough or barking cough, shortness of breath, decrease or loss of taste or smell.

Our advice to parents and guardians is if you or your child experience any of the symptoms listed in the screening tool, do not go to work or school, seek testing right away, and remain in isolation until the result is available.  I want to remind parents and caregivers that there are several sites that will test children. A full list of testing sites is available on our website and on OttawaTestingUpdate.ca.

Additionally, new this year, take-home test kits will begin rolling out across many schools in Ottawa making it easier and more convenient for parents to test their children. More information on what to expect for testing this school year can be found on OttawaTestingUpdate.ca.  

If you or your child experiences any other symptoms of illness, like a sore throat or runny nose, you do not need to seek testing, however you need to stay home until you are feeling better.

Daily screening for students and staff is an important component for keeping schools as safe as possible.

Thank you. Merci. Meegwetch.

August 25, 2021 – Special statement from Dr. Brent Moloughney

Hello. Bonjour. Kwey.

Schools

As the return to school and in-person learning approaches, Ottawa Public Health remains committed to supporting schools to stay open and to maintain a safer environment for students and staff. As a community, we need to continue to do our part to keep COVID rates down, so we can keep the virus from being introduced into school settings.

Ottawa Public Health will continue to support the school community with public health nurses on site in schools, online and over the phone to support COVID-19 prevention and protection measures. This includes supporting the implementation of guidelines and policies to ensure everyone practices preventive measures such as daily screening before attending school, proper masking, distancing and handwashing.

We have heard from parents and understand your concerns around possible cases in schools. If there is a student or staff who is identified as testing positive for COVID in a school, OPH will ensure quick identification of cases and contacts, assess vaccine status and isolate individuals to reduce risks. Those who are fully vaccinated and not having any symptoms can remain in school in keeping with provincial guidance. Ottawa Public Health will continue to send a general notification to the school community and an automated message to those identified as high-risk contacts. Please review these OPH messages carefully if you receive them and follow the instructions provided. 

We are also working with community health partners, including CHEO, to ensure ready access to testing, including increasing availability of take-home testing kits in many schools.  We continue to monitor the local COVID-19 situation and will adjust our recommendations to school boards to ensure the school setting is as safe as possible.

This pandemic has been challenging for our children and youth. As students transition to in-person learning, Ottawa Public Health continues to work with mental health partners and schools to connect students and families to supports and help schools to foster mental health and promote resilience. Visit our website for information and resources to support children’s mental health.

Workplace vaccination policies

Over the past few weeks, we have been hearing of more organizations and workplaces implementing vaccination policies. Ottawa Public Health welcomes these steps taken by local organizations and strongly recommends that all those eligible receive both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. Supporting employees to get fully vaccinated is the best way to help protect them from the risks of COVID-19, prevent outbreaks and build confidence in the workplace as we continue living with this virus in our community. Ottawa Public Health continues to engage with local organizations to ensure employers and employees are provided information about the benefits of vaccination, where to get vaccinated, and encourage that employees are provided with time off work to get their vaccinations.

A reminder that workplaces, community organizations, places of worship and other groups can contact Ottawa Public Health to request a mobile vaccination team to administer first and second doses of the COVID-19 vaccine on-site, at their own location. Please visit our website or call us at 613-580-6744 to make a request.

Third dose of COVID-19 vaccine

Following last week’s announcement by the Province, a third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine is now available to residents most at risk of serious illness, including individuals who are severely immunocompromised. This includes transplant recipients, patients with hematological cancers on active treatment, and recipients of an anti-CD20 agent.

Residents who meet these criteria can speak to their specialist or hospital program to ask for a letter to receive a third dose. The third dose will be given at least two months after the second dose and will be the same vaccine received as the second dose. Drop-in vaccinations are available to those eligible for a third dose at any community clinic, pop-up clinic, or neighbourhood vaccination hub in Ottawa during hours of operation. Eligible residents must present a letter from their specialist or hospital program to receive a third dose.

Residents of long-term care homes and highest risk retirement homes will also be offered a third dose of vaccination at an interval of at least five months after the second dose. Ottawa Public Health is working with long-term care homes and highest risk retirement homes directly to offer a third dose to residents in those settings.

Opportunities for vaccination and limiting close contacts

With the warm weather, we can enjoy safer visits with friends and family outdoors in backyards or parks where physical distancing can be maintained. However, with the fall season in our sights, and with the more transmissible Delta variant in our community, I’d like to encourage you to limit your close contacts in indoor settings where transmission is more likely to occur.

As we are seeing Delta variant fuelled resurgences occurring in other countries, we know we can impact the chances of that occurring here by our collective actions. We’ve done it before. This means getting immunized if you haven’t already; maintaining our public health measures including masking and distancing; and limiting our number of close contacts, particularly indoors. Together, we can limit the extent of transmission in our community and protect those, including our children, who cannot yet be immunized.

There are still plenty of opportunities to access the COVID-19 vaccine in Ottawa. Anyone who is eligible and wishes to get their first or second dose of a vaccine can do so at any of our community clinics or neighbourhood vaccine hubs. Drop-ins are available daily. Please visit OttawaPublicHealth.ca/COVID19vaccine for more information. And if you have questions about the vaccine, please contact your primary healthcare provider or you can contact our public health nurses by phone at 613-580-6744.

August 11, 2021 – Special statement from Dr. Vera Etches

I’m happy to be joined today by Board of Health Chair Egli, Ottawa Public Health colleagues and our partners at the Ottawa Local Immigration Partnership, the South-East Ottawa Community Health Centre and the Ottawa Neighbourhood Study (ONS).

Today we are releasing information that outlines COVID-19 vaccination coverage by neighbourhood in Ottawa. An interactive mapping tool provides a snapshot in time of cumulative percent of individuals aged 12 and over who received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine and those who are fully vaccinated, based on geography established by the Ottawa Neighbourhood Study. This is the same neighbourhood approach we used to provide information about people testing positive for COVID-19, testing and per cent positivity rates by neighbourhoods in Ottawa. The vaccination data by neighbourhood will be updated every four weeks.

Ottawa Public Health, the City and health care and community partners use this data to address barriers and inequities in COVID-19 vaccination through responses focused on specific neighbourhoods and populations. Some of this work is accomplished through mobile clinics and Public Health Neighbourhood Vaccine Hubs.

This data, which is now available on the ONS website, has shown us that vaccination coverage is lower in less advantaged neighbourhoods than more advantaged neighbourhoods, which also have some of the largest Black and racialized populations. As we have seen in past reports, the disparity between less and more advantaged neighbourhoods has persisted throughout the pandemic, despite significant efforts by many partners to reorient services to meet the greatest needs.

I want to be very clear about the neighbourhoods where there is lower vaccine uptake: it is not necessarily that people are vaccine hesitant, rather, there are also systemic barriers that prevent access to vaccine information and opportunities for vaccination. For example, residents of these neighbourhoods are more likely to work in jobs where taking paid leave to be vaccinated is difficult or impossible. Other barriers include language, transportation, lack of computer and internet access, need for childcare, or lack of trust in the government agencies, and in the health care system, given previous negative experiences and systemic racism. Some may not have a primary health care provider with whom they can discuss vaccine questions and the factors influencing immunization uptake go beyond just the operation of the healthcare system. Ottawa Public Health and the City of Ottawa continue to work closely with healthcare and community partners like the Ottawa Local Immigration Partnership and community health centres across the city to address barriers to vaccination. We are seeing the coverage rates in disadvantaged communities grow as more options are added.

All health system providers have a role in promoting vaccination to their patients and clients proactively and as opportunities arise. Employers in Ottawa can play a significant role by providing time off for employees to get questions answered, to get vaccinated and if they are feeling unwell after getting vaccinated. Additionally, employers can request a mobile clinic come to the workplace. Visit our website for details.

While all communities now have the majority of their eligible populations immunized, we want every single community within Ottawa to be protected against COVID-19 as much as possible, and we are heading towards 90 per cent coverage across our city. We know that a high level of vaccination protection is part of our path to getting safely back to the people and activities that we love, and to protect against more transmissible variants like Delta.

Vaccines save lives. Vaccines ARE saving lives.

And lastly, in addition to ensuring we are fully vaccinated as soon as possible, there are other actions we can all take to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission, including wearing a mask in closed spaces and crowds, maintaining physical distance from others and staying home when sick except to get tested.

Visit our website for more information, and if you still have questions, you can reach out to one of our OPH nurses over the phone at 613-580-6744.

Thank you. Merci. Meegwetch.

July 29, 2021 – Special statement from Dr. Vera Etches

Hello. Bonjour. Kwey.

I want to thank every Ottawa resident who has taken the step to help protect themselves and those around them by getting vaccinated. To date, 83 per cent of people in Ottawa aged 12 and older have received at least one dose and 70 per cent of people aged 12 and older have received two doses. Thank you. Every day, we get a little bit closer to achieving our goal of fully vaccinating 90 per cent of the eligible population in Ottawa.

Achieving 90 per cent is possible, and we will need to work together as a community. Based on early survey data, we know that the vast majority – about 82 per cent – of people were planning on getting the vaccine once it was available. Less than 10 per cent of people indicated they did not plan on getting the vaccine and about 10 per cent indicated they weren’t sure.

It has been Ottawa Public Health’s job to ensure that everyone has access to the information they need to make an informed decision about getting a vaccine. This work will continue.

To get to 90 per cent, OPH is working with partners to address barriers and provide more access to the vaccine to make it as easy as possible for everyone who wants a vaccine to get one. Community clinics continue, and we are now extending the use of mobile clinics, bringing the vaccine to where people work, live, play and pray. Workplaces, community organizations, places of worship and other groups can now request a mobile vaccination team to administer first and second doses of the COVID-19 vaccine on-site, at their own location. Visit ottawapublichealth.ca/COVD19vaccine for more information.

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It’s hard to believe, but we are just six weeks away from the first day of school for most Ontario schools. Again, I’d like to thank the people of Ottawa for your amazing progress on vaccine uptake, including children and youth aged 12 to 17. If you or your child falls within this age group and has not yet received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, now is the time to do so in order to be fully vaccinated before the start of the school year.

While we are waiting for more details from the Province on the school reopening plan, we anticipate the return of in-person learning. Keeping schools open has been one of OPH’s top priorities since the beginning of the pandemic. We know that students, their parents, caregivers and educators benefit mentally, socially and developmentally from in-person learning.

Some families may be feeling uneasy about sending their children or youth back to school. We know that transmission of COVID-19 in schools during this past school year was very low. The public health measures in schools ensured schools were as safe as possible for students and education staff. We also know that rates of COVID-19 in the community are often reflected in schools, meaning the more COVID there is in the community, the greater the likelihood of it appearing in schools. This is why it is so important that we continue to work towards community immunity by getting vaccinated. Children under 12 are not yet eligible to receive a vaccine, so now is the time to rally and help protect our children by getting vaccinated ourselves.

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We are closely watching the situation in the UK, Israel and other countries who are currently experiencing a resurgence despite high vaccine uptake. Many people are wondering if another resurgence is inevitable here in Ottawa. We don’t have to follow this trend.

In addition to ensuring we are fully vaccinated as soon as possible, there are other actions we can all take to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission, including wearing a mask in closed spaces and crowds, maintaining physical distance from others and staying home when sick except to get tested – even if you have had two doses of the vaccine. These are public health measures that will continue to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and will likely remain in place for some time.

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If you still have questions about the safety and effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines, or you simply aren’t sure what you should do, talk to someone: your family physician, a family member or friend who may have been in a similar situation, or an OPH nurse or team member - they are here to listen with compassion and empathy.

If you were once hesitant and changed your mind about getting a COVID-19 vaccine, share your story with others.

If you find yourself talking with a friend or loved one who isn’t sure about vaccines, there are ways to do so without judgement:

  • Engage the person and ask open-ended questions like “What can I clarify for you?” instead of simple “yes” or “no” questions.
  • Listen more than you speak. Most people just want a safe space to be heard.
  • Do not belittle, shame, dismiss or judge someone for being hesitant or having questions.
  • And don’t assume the person’s reasons for being hesitant.

And of course, you can visit our website for more information. In addition to our vaccine page, we recently updated our Community Immunity page which now features even more helpful information on the importance of getting a vaccine, how to talk to others about vaccines, what to do as we continue the journey to community immunity, mental health resources and more.

Ottawa Public Health is aware that the impacts of the pandemic on the well-being of our community continue to be felt. Our focus is also on plans to stand up and catch up on public health services that promote health (including and beyond vaccination) through partnerships with workplaces, educational institutions, Indigenous service providers, the City of Ottawa and health care providers.

We’re getting there, Ottawa, and you should be proud. Let’s stay the course.

Thank you. Merci. Meegwetch.

July 14, 2021 – Special statement from Dr. Brent Moloughney

Hello. Bonjour. Kwey. 

This week, we reached another milestone in Ottawa – 60 per cent of people 18 and older have received two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. This is encouraging news Ottawa, let’s keep up the momentum. There are plenty of appointments for second doses.  If you haven’t moved up your second dose, don’t delay, please do so today. Let's make this a two-dose summer for as many Ottawans as possible.

I’m hearing that there are still questions about using mRNA vaccines interchangeably – that is, receiving a different vaccine for your second dose than the one you received for your first dose. For example, receiving Moderna as a second dose after a first dose of Pfizer, or vice versa. I want to reassure you, interchanging vaccines is safe and effective and is not a new practice. Similar vaccines from different manufacturers are used when vaccine supply or public health programs change.  

For example, different vaccine products have been used to complete a vaccine series for influenza, hepatitis A, and others.  Moderna and Pfizer remain interchangeable. For those aged 12-17, we solely give Pfizer for both doses. Receiving two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine as quickly as possible is necessary to be fully protected against COVID.  

I also call upon parents, caregivers, youth and young adults – please spread the word to youth aged 12 and older and young adults. It’s easier than ever for anyone in Ottawa to get their first dose if they haven’t already. Anyone who still requires their first dose can walk-in at an Ottawa vaccine clinic to get their shot – no appointment necessary. 

If you have questions about the vaccine, please visit Ottawa Public Health’s website; there’s a lot of great information there, or you can contact your health care provider or OPH to speak with a public health nurse by calling 613-580-6744.  

This Friday, Ottawa along with the rest of Ontario, will move to Step 3 of the Province’s reopening plan. In Step 3, we’ll see a further easing of restrictions. Larger gatherings will be permitted, and   indoor dining and indoor fitness facilities will reopen their doors. Our community has worked hard to reach this next step and I would like to extend my thanks to everyone who has rolled up their sleeve to get vaccinated. Your efforts are making a difference in our community.   

While we are making significant progress, we need to stay ahead of the virus as we go into the fall. We will continue to monitor the impact of each step we take which might give COVID-19 more opportunity to spread. We know the Delta variant is more transmissible and is giving rise to resurgences in other countries despite high levels of immunization. Ottawa Public Health will keep an eye on hospitalizations as a key measure of whether the virus is reaching more vulnerable populations.

The actions people continue to take (wearing masks indoors and in crowded spaces, practising physical distancing, limiting close contacts and getting two doses of COVID-19 vaccine) are enabling us to keep COVID-19 levels at a bay. Each day, we are moving one step closer toward community immunity. Let’s stay the course, Ottawa. 

June 30, 2021 – Special statement from Dr. Vera Etches

Hello. Bonjour. Kwey.

As we continue to navigate our way through the COVID-19 pandemic, I want to take a moment to acknowledge how the health of our community is determined by so much more than the status of a particular pandemic virus. I appreciate the work of Indigenous health service providers currently supporting community members, the partners working with newcomers, people addressing mental health and substance use needs in our community, employers getting people back to work, the visitors in long-term care homes and others providing social support to older adults. We all have a role to play in improving the health of our community, including looking at root causes of health and ill health.

COVID-19 continues to be top of mind and critical to control to be able to return to more supports for health in our communities as we enter Step 2 of the provincial reopening plan.

Step 2 means outdoor gatherings of up to 25 people are now permitted. We can also gather indoors with up to five people. The table limit for outdoor dining is now six people, personal care services are now permitted and businesses can increase capacity.

While Ottawa is well-positioned for a safe transition into Step 2, I want to remind residents that we still need to keep measures like distancing and mask-wearing in place in public settings, as we know that the majority of our population does not yet have the two doses of COVID-19 vaccine needed to be considered fully vaccinated. Continue to choose lower-risk activities by getting outdoors. Play in a park, enjoy the city’s multi-use pathways, cool off in a nearby splash pad, wading pool or public beach.

Last week, the Public Health Agency of Canada released new guidance for vaccinated Canadians. This guidance shows that we can have a lot of confidence when we have two doses of the COVID vaccine. The work of maintaining masking and distancing when we are in close contact with people who may not be fully immunized, including children, is appreciated and respectful while we continue to increase access to vaccine and second doses for all. We expect further provincial guidance as the success of reopening and keeping COVID-19 under control is evaluated.

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I want to once again call on our younger adult population – if you are between the ages of 18 and 39. Ottawa residents have made so many sacrifices to keep COVID levels at a manageable level, and you are no exception. I ask you to keep up the great work, and if you haven’t done so already, to get your vaccine. First and second dose. It is your turn.

I know for some the process to book appointments has been cumbersome or confusing, and for others it can feel like we are in the clear, but we aren’t there yet. We need everyone to do their part to help us reach community immunity.

Getting fully vaccinated as soon as possible will help move us to a place where we can get back to the things we love: indoor dining. Larger social gatherings. Going to the movies. Theatre performances. Indoor sports leagues. Karaoke. Going to the gym. Live music at your favourite local pub. Museums and art galleries. No quarantine if you are returning from travel.

We can’t get to this place without you. If you haven’t already, book your vaccine appointment today. A reminder that all adults 18 and older are eligible to get a second dose sooner. If you already have your second appointment a few months from now, public health strongly recommends that you register for an earlier appointment as soon as possible. Make this your summer of two doses. If you have questions about the vaccine please visit the Ottawa Public Health’s website, there’s a lot of great information there, or you can contact your health care provider or OPH to speak with a public health nurse.

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Lastly, if you are participating in Canada Day activities tomorrow, please continue to follow the public health measures in place under Step 2 of the reopening plan so we can continue to navigate our way out of this pandemic as safely as possible.

Thank you. Merci. Meegwetch

June 18, 2021 – Special statement from Dr. Brent Moloughney

Hello. Bonjour. Kwey.

Current COVID-19 monitoring indicators tell us that outbreaks, hospitalizations and the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 continue to decline. This is good news.

That said, the COVID-19 wastewater viral signal is going up, suggesting more transmission of COVID-19. And fewer people are getting tested for COVID. Therefore, the reported number of infections continues to be an underestimate of the number of infections in the community, as many people are asymptomatic and/or have not been tested with mild illness.

Additionally, the level of transmission in the community is much higher than what it was last summer And we are now contending with the more transmissible COVID variants compared with the original virus last year.

We will need to reach higher levels of immunization with two doses before we can rely on vaccines alone to keep COVID-19 at a low, manageable level, and this will not happen until closer to the end of the summer at the earliest.

This summer, how much the level of COVID-19 rises in the community depends directly on our collective actions. 

We can soon expect further guidance at the federal and provincial levels for people at different stages of the vaccination series. For now, our advice is the same for everyone regardless of your vaccine status: continue to maintain a distance from those outside your household. Wear a mask when you can’t maintain distance. Choose lower-risk activities. Stick with outdoors when gathering with others. Avoid crowded places.

And, I would like to remind everyone to continue daily screening of COVID-19 and seek testing if you or your child experiences any COVID symptoms. Even if you are working from home, and even though children are no longer in school. This is especially important since day camps are now permitted and children will be mixing with others outside the home.

Visit our website to find out how, when and where you should get tested.

***

Yesterday, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization, or NACI, updated its recommendations for those who received AstraZeneca for their first dose. In this scenario, NACI states that a second dose with an mRNA vaccine (Moderna or Pfizer) is now preferred based on emerging evidence of a potentially better immune response from this mixed vaccine schedule and to mitigate the potential risk of rare, but severe blood clots associated with AstraZeneca.  Either Moderna or Pfizer are safe options for a second dose if you received AstraZeneca first.

For those who received AstraZeneca for both doses: You can rest assured that the vaccine provides good protection against infection and very good protection against severe disease and hospitalization. You do not need to receive another vaccine, and you are now considered fully immunized.

If you received an mRNA vaccine for your first dose, so either Moderna or Pfizer, it is recommended that you receive the same vaccine for your second dose if it is readily available. However, if the same mRNA vaccine is not readily available, NACI states another mRNA vaccine is considered interchangeable and should be used to complete the vaccination series. So, if you received Pfizer for your first dose, you can get Moderna for your second dose, (and vice versa), and it is safe to do so.

Both Moderna and Pfizer rely on the same scientific approach to protect against COVID-19 infection. They have very similar effectiveness and side effect profiles. 

Vaccine interchangeability is not a new concept. Getting the same vaccine for the first and second dose or an interchangeable schedule are both considered valid options, and both will count as a completed series.

***

Earlier I mentioned that our behaviours directly impact COVID numbers, and while we can expect an increase in COVID indicators as we move into Step 1, it doesn’t have to be significant if we keep up with public health measures in place.

For students: It's probably been the most difficult and challenging year you've ever had in school. As you approach the end of the school year, it's time to celebrate everything you've accomplished and enjoy time with friends. You can do so while still doing your part to help reduce the spread of COVID-19.

  • Keep gatherings outdoors. Enjoy that bonfire, pool party or beach day...
  • ...but limit your contacts. The current limit to outdoor gatherings is 10 people. And try to keep it to those same people.
  • I know it’s hard and you want to hug your friends, but it is best to maintain a distance of at least two metres for now.
  • Always bring a mask with you in case you can’t maintain a distance from others.
  • Bring your own drinks and snacks – do not share food or drinks with others.

If everyone does their part by getting vaccinated as soon as they can and maintaining public health measures, I am hopeful that we can all enjoy a safer, happier summer. 

Thank you. Merci. Meegwetch.

June 10, 2021 – Special statement from Dr. Vera Etches

Hello. Bonjour. Kwey. Ullaakut.

Tomorrow, Ottawa, along with the rest of Ontario, will move into Step 1 of the Provincial reopening plan.

I am hearing and seeing online that people are anticipating a summer much like last year.

While the summer-like weather is here, I want to make it very clear that we are not in the same place we were this time last year. Yes, we are making progress with our vaccine rollout. And yes, we are seeing fewer people test positive since the peak of the most recent resurgence.

But the level of transmission in the community is approximately 10 times what it was last summer. We entered summer 2020 with two cases per100,000 people per week. Today, we are looking at 26 cases per 100,000 people. And, we were not contending with the COVID variants. The new variants of concern are more transmissible. We will need to reach higher levels of immunization with two doses before we can rely on vaccines alone to keep COVID-19 at a low, manageable level that does not lead to significant hospitalizations, and this will not happen until closer to the end of the summer.

This pandemic is not over. This is true across the world, across Canada, and Ottawa is no exception.

As we move into Step 1 tomorrow, my advice is the same for everyone regardless of your vaccine status, for now: continue to maintain a distance from those outside your household. Wear a mask when you can’t maintain distance. Choose lower-risk activities; stick with outdoors. Avoid crowded places. Continue daily screening and get tested if you experience symptoms of COVID.

We expect more information from the federal and provincial governments on what will be permitted based on vaccine status, but here’s what we can do as of tomorrow:

We can gather outdoors in groups of up to 10 people – just ensure you maintain a distance of two metres from those outside your household and wear a mask if this becomes difficult.

We can go to a restaurant patio with up to three other people – again – wear a mask if dining with others outside your household when you’re not eating or drinking. And please be patient with restaurant staff as they work to reopen, and follow the public health measures they have in place.

Non-essential businesses will reopen at 15 per cent capacity, so we can start shopping in-person. Again, I ask you to be patient as you may need to wait outside the store until others leave, and curbside pickup is still encouraged where possible.

And with the exception of games or practices, outdoor fitness classes and personal training will now be permitted for groups of up to 10 people. So, continue to get outdoors to benefit your physical and mental health.

For more details on what is permitted during Step 1, please visit ontario.ca.

I am hopeful that with a summer of carefully easing restrictions and progress with vaccine rollout, we will be able to enjoy more and more activities.

Thank you. Merci. Meegwetch.

June 2, 2021 – Special statement from Dr. Vera Etches

The Province today announced that schools will remain closed for the remainder of the school year. We know from local surveys and service providers that school closures have had a negative impact on children and parents and caregivers’ mental health so this news may be challenging for many in our community.

This hasn’t been an easy school year, especially over the last two months while children have been home. Children haven’t been able to connect and interact with their friends, not everyone has equal access to the internet, making online learning a challenge, and the format has its own limitations. And some parents and caregivers are struggling with childcare, while trying to balance working and supervising online school.

For many, it’s been too much. Our emotional bandwidth is limited and after 15 months of COVID our resources to cope with the ongoing challenge of the pandemic may be depleted.

I want to remind everyone that now is not the time to expect our best parenting. It’s okay to do the best you can with what you have. Be kind and patient with yourselves.

With the expiry today of Ontario’s Stay-at-Home order, we are able to leave the home for non-essential reasons. While many restrictions remain in place, we can gather outdoors in groups of five with members outside our household. Outdoor activities are a safer option; we can play in a park, enjoy the city’s multi-use pathways, cool off in a splash pad.

I would like to ask community members to think about people you know who may be struggling, especially parents who need a break. Watch for signs such as frustration, irritability and burnout. Give them a call or send a text. Perhaps offer to watch their children in a park or backyard, even for a few hours. Your small act of kindness could be someone’s lifeline.

For parents and caregivers, think about the possibility of having childcare support in an outdoor setting in groups of five or less if you need it. It’s okay to ask for help. And it’s okay to accept help when it’s offered. We need to see this through as a community; we can’t do this alone.

And for employers, I ask that you continue to be patient and understanding when someone needs to take time off or adjust their hours.

Ottawa Public Health has resources on our Parenting in Ottawa page for both youth and parents on how to cope with at-home learning in a healthy way. You can also follow Parenting in Ottawa on Facebook and Instagram.

And it’s OK to not be OK. Mental health resources are available for all members of the community on OttawaPublicHealth.ca.

Lastly, I would like to remind parents that even though children are not currently in school, please continue doing daily screening and seek testing if you or your child experiences any COVID symptoms. Visit our website to find out how, when and where you should get tested.

I am hopeful that after a summer of carefully easing restrictions and progress with our vaccine rollout, students, education staff, parents and caregivers will be in for a safer return to school in the fall. I will do all I can to ensure that children, youth and parents and caregivers have the support of in-person school in the fall.

May 19, 2021 – Special statement from Dr. Vera Etches

Hello. Bonjour. Kwey.

Ottawa, we are getting there.

Our COVID-19 monitoring indicators are showing positive signs: we are seeing fewer people test positive for COVID-19, per cent positivity is down though not yet low, wastewater levels continue to trend downward and we are seeing fewer outbreaks and fewer hospitalizations.

This is a direct result of your efforts and is evidence that the public health measures in place are working. When we all work together, it has a significant impact on the community.

And while encouraging, we are not yet in a position where we can begin to lift the public health measures currently in place. Soon, but not just yet. We have learned from past resurgences here and in other countries around the world what can happen when restrictions are lifted too soon. We will need to ease slowly into activities as vaccination coverage grows.

Looking to the months ahead, I can tell you that while it won’t be a normal summer, we will likely see some restrictions lifted if the current trends continue. It could be a summer like last year where small outdoor gatherings may be permitted and we could see the resumption of some outdoor recreational activities. We will have greater confidence about growing the size of gatherings as vaccination coverage increases and COVID-19 remains under control. We await further information from the Province on specifics, but I do want to make this very clear: public health measures like masking, maintaining physical distance, getting tested when you have a symptom that could be COVID-19 and hand-washing will remain in place.

As the Mayor, Chair Egli and Mr. Di Monte have said, I want to thank everyone for their patience during this vaccine rollout. It is good news that all adults 18 and older are now eligible, but we don’t yet have the vaccine supply to accommodate everyone. I want to reassure everyone that we will eventually have enough vaccine for anyone who wants it. It will take a little bit of time. You won’t be forgotten. People due for second doses are not forgotten. The province is anticipating a solution for booking second doses very soon.

I know that asking for patience is hard, especially when you may be seeing others around you being vaccinated. I love seeing social media posts about people getting their vaccine. But I also know this might cause anxiety among those who haven’t received theirs yet. If you have not yet received a vaccine or booked your appointment, I want to remind you that each person who gets a vaccine brings us closer to community immunity. Each person who gets a vaccine helps protect not only themselves, but those around them. When vaccination rates rise in populations at higher risk for COVID-19, it helps protect the whole community. We will continue our work to ensure that everyone who wants a vaccine can get one.

One last thing I would like to address is an emerging trend we are seeing regarding vaccine preference, particularly when it comes to Pfizer versus Moderna. I want to remind everyone that both vaccines have been approved by Health Canada and are safe and effective. According to Health Canada, Pfizer is expected to be 95 per cent effective against COVID-19 after two doses, and Moderna is expected to have 94 per cent effectiveness. Both rely on the same scientific approach to protect against COVID-19 infection, as they are both mRNA vaccines. I continue to urge everyone to accept the first vaccine that is offered to them.

No matter what, we all have the power to help reduce transmission of COVID-19. It is important that each of us continue to practise public health measures for now. This is my advice for those who have been vaccinated, and those who have not. Regardless of our vaccine status, daily screening for symptoms of COVID-19, physical distancing, wearing masks indoors and when in close contact with others, and good hand hygiene is key to limiting COVID-19 transmission.

Thank you. Merci. Meegwetch.

May 5, 2021 – Special statement from Dr. Vera Etches

Hello. Bonjour. Kwey.

As we continue to roll out vaccines to as many people as we can as quickly and efficiently as we can, I want to thank residents for their patience.

As Mr. Di Monte mentioned, this week we started our first drop-in community pop-up clinics in neighbourhoods that have been more impacted by COVID-19. These neighbourhoods have higher COVID rates and face greater barriers to immunization, so we know there is more we need to do here.

In the weeks to come, adults 18 years of age and older who live in  neighbourhoods at higher risk, which are listed on our website, will be eligible for a vaccine. They will be notified of clinic and registration options through a targeted approach with our community partners.

#CommunityImmunity

As more people receive their vaccine, become eligible to book their vaccine, and as vaccine supply increases, we get closer to achieving community immunity.

Today Ottawa Public Health and the City launched a new campaign to increase awareness of vaccines, share resources, how to talk about vaccines with your friends and family, address why you should get one, what you can do while you wait for your vaccine and what to do after you receive it.

While we are getting closer every day, it will take time to reach community immunity. Until that time, we must continue to follow the public health measures that keep us safe from COVID-19 and its variants – get tested if you show symptoms, stay home if you are sick, wash your hands, wear a mask, and maintain physical distancing from those outside your household.

Visit OttawaPublicHealth.ca/CommunityImmunity for more information on this campaign and how you can help spread the word.

I recognize that the information about vaccines is constantly evolving. The vaccine rollout is a dynamic process. We will continue to use multiple channels to communicate as clearly as we can with you about when it is your turn and where you can be vaccinated. Please continue to check OttawaPublicHealth.ca/COVID19vaccine.

My advice to you has been and continues to be to take the first vaccine that is made available to you. All vaccines currently in use in Canada have been approved by Health Canada and are safe and effective against COVID-19 infection, serious illness and hospitalization. The benefits of all vaccines far outweigh the risks of getting COVID-19.

If you’re still unsure, know that informed consent and having open and inclusive conversations are  important components of increasing vaccine confidence, so talk about your options with your health care provider.

Get tested

Our monitoring indicators continue to show a slight decline in the number of people testing positive for COVID-19, as is the per cent positivity rate.

We have also seen the testing rate go down in recent weeks, and while this is likely due to a number of factors, including the result of the current Stay-at-Home order, I am concerned when testing drops too much. We want to continue to detect COVID-19 in the community, so I encourage anyone who is experiencing symptoms to get tested right away. This will allow us to get a more accurate idea of how much COVID-19 there is in the community, but more importantly it will allow us to support people who do test positive and provide them with important isolation and contact tracing information and advise on when to seek medical attention.

Visit our website to find out how, when and where you should get tested.

Mental Health Week

These are challenging times and feeling worried or lonely is natural. Good mental health does not mean feeling happy all the time. This year, the theme for Mental Health Week is to #GetReal – let's name, express and deal with our emotions – even the uncomfortable ones. Heavy feelings become lighter when we put them into words. This week, and every week, I encourage you to reach out and have that talk about mental health and mental health challenges with a friend, a colleague, or a trusted mental health professional like our friends at the Distress Centre or a local counsellor. Mental health resources can be found online at www.OttawaPublicHealth.ca/COVIDMentalHealth.

***

For many, the most challenging part of this pandemic has been our inability to visit our loved ones in person. We miss hugs, sharing meals and sitting closely together while catching up. The friends or relatives across town might as well be across the country. Ottawa, we are getting to a point where in-person visits will be possible, but we're still not quite there yet.

This Mother’s Day, I encourage you to celebrate virtually. Even if mom or grandma has been vaccinated, we all need to keep maintaining those behaviours that will keep COVID-19 at bay until more people have received their vaccine. So stick with your household and continue to find those special and creative ways to tell someone you love them from a distance.

Community immunity is about more than vaccines; it’s about working together to do everything we can to protect each other.

Thank you. Merci. Meegwetch.

 April 30, 2021 – Special statement from Dr. Vera Etches

Ottawa, over the last few weeks I’ve heard over and over about your excitement at being vaccinated, I’ve enjoyed the vaccine selfies on social media, and the news of loved ones being immunized. I’ve also heard your concerns and frustrations from some who have struggled to book vaccine appointments.

I hear you, and now we have a better timeline for everyone about when it will be their turn. Just yesterday, the province has confirmed how close we are to one dose for everyone. Thank you for being patient.

As we close out National Immunization Awareness Week, it is clear that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought new meaning to this annual event and highlighted the importance of immunization. I am thankful for how people in Ottawa see the value of being immunized.

Our recent polling confirmed the vast majority of people in Ottawa want a COVID-19 vaccine, which means that when we do eventually have enough supply – and we will, soon! - we will be able to achieve community immunity.

As of today, more than one third of Ottawa’s 16+ population has received at least one dose of the vaccine. We are reaching people who are at highest risk and more people are becoming eligible. Following people who cannot work from home and people with at-risk health conditions, by the end of May, all adults over 18 years of age will be eligible for a vaccine. This is extremely encouraging.

Not only does a vaccine help protect the individual against COVID-19, it also helps protects those around them. And every single person who gets their vaccine brings us one step closer to community immunity.

The rates of COVID-19 in the community, while still high, are stabilizing. I say this as encouragement, not to imply that we are ready to ease restrictions; we are not there yet. Hospitals in Ottawa continue to be operating with elective procedures canceled to make space and staff available to care for COVID-19 patients and people transferred from the Greater Toronto Area. Our rates are still too high to reopen schools. The current Provincial measures need to remain in place for a little while longer. If the restrictions are lifted too soon, we risk entering another resurgence, and we all know how difficult it has been to recover from these waves.

But we are on the right track. Your hard work – your sacrifices – are paying off. Thank you for getting us to this place.

Ottawa, we have shown that we can do hard things. And we just have to keep this up a little while longer.

I want to remind those who have received a vaccine – whether one dose or both – or who will be receiving one soon that keeping up with the behaviours like maintaining distance from others, wearing a mask, and keeping your hands clean, when with people outside of your households, is needed to protect people until more people are fully vaccinated.  People have tested positive for COVID-19 in the days and weeks following immunization, as the vaccine takes time to build immunity and is not 100 per cent effective. Outbreaks have resulted from people letting up on these measures after receiving one dose. The day will come when we will have more freedoms. We want to prevent as many people from getting sick as possible until we reach that day of significant protection from high vaccine coverage.

Spring is here, so get outside! Remember that while being outdoors reduces the risk of COVID-19 transmission, there is still risk. The Ontario Science Table presented evidence yesterday that, until more people are vaccinated and COVID-19 levels drop, masks are needed to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission outdoors when people are in close contact with people from outside their homes. So please carry a mask with you at all times and wear it when you cannot maintain a distance of two meters from others. Until we are out of the Stay-at-Home Order and the COVID-19 situation improves, we ask everyone to stay with the people you live with outdoors, unless you are single and joining one other household.

Taking these precautions will assist the whole community to drop the level of COVID-19 in the Ottawa as quickly as possible while working in tandem with the vaccine rollout. This means fewer restrictions, sooner.

Ottawa, I know these are tough times. For some, perhaps the toughest yet. But know this: there is light on the horizon and it’s getting brighter every day. We will get through this together.

Thank you. Merci. Meegwetch.

April 21, 2021 – Special statement from Dr. Vera Etches

Hello. Bonjour. Kwey.

A letter was sent yesterday to the Premier requesting an urgent review of all businesses and services that continue to have workers at the workplace, to amend the language in Ontario Regulation 82/20 regarding school closure for greater clarity and to improve the enforcement provisions under the Reopening Ontario Act and Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act.

The reason for this request is that workplaces continue to be places where people come into close contact with others and where COVID-19 is transmitted.

With the current pressures on the healthcare system the curve must be turned again by decreasing these opportunities for transmission. Workers affected require access to financial supports.

In Ottawa, the limited number of businesses with more than five people testing positive include a lab, a gym, two transportation operations, two construction companies and five restaurants offering take-out. Along with restaurants, offices are also near the top of the list for workplaces that experience outbreaks and sports and recreation activities are also a top contributor. At this point, under provincial regulation, people who can work from home must work from home and sports and recreation activities should be with members of one’s household. Where people cannot be distanced from others, wearing masks is key to stopping transmission of the variants of concern.

When it comes to workplace outbreaks, unfortunately, once an outbreak occurs public health measures can only mitigate the number of people who are subsequently exposed. This is why we want to focus on preventing COVID transmission in the first place. The goal of these recommendations is to prevent transmission by limiting the places where people come into close contact with others outside their household.

Additionally, I have previously instructed businesses to inform Ottawa Public Health when two or more people test positive within their workplace within 14 days of each other. Ottawa Public Health’s case management team continues to work with businesses and residents to manage these situations so that further transmission is prevented.

Our situation in Ottawa is unique; we are not seeing the same trends of workplace transmission and scale of outbreaks that other places like Toronto and Peel Region are experiencing.

We continue to monitor the situation locally and evaluate all possible options to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our communities based on the data available.

I look forward to having further discussions with the Province about how best to implement these new measures here in Ottawa.

****

Post-vaccine behaviours

I want to take a moment to remind people who have received a vaccine – whether one dose or both – or who will be receiving one soon that you will need to keep up with the behaviours like maintaining distance from others, wearing a mask, and keeping your hands clean, when with people outside of your households, until more people are fully vaccinated.  People have tested positive for COVID-19 in the days following immunization, as the vaccine takes time to build immunity and is not 100 per cent effective.

With high levels of COVID-19 in our community, we expect to continue to see a small number of vaccinated people test positive. After you receive your vaccine, you will receive information on post-vaccine behaviours – please read this and follow the guidance.

Taking these precautions will assist the whole community to drop the level of COVID-19 in the community as quickly as possible.

****

Not everyone is safe at home

Lastly, I want to acknowledge the significant challenges so many are facing right now. Employment options are reduced, financial stress is high. There are emergency financial supports available from the City. And, I encourage people to reach out to help each other before an emergency occurs.

With schools going back to virtual learning for most this week, many families are under the stress of trying to figure out how to work and oversee online schooling. Setting realistic expectations and flexibility from employers are important to make it through this period. No one is perfect or able to do two jobs at once.

We are currently under a Stay-at-Home order except for essential reasons. But not everyone is safe at home. Leaving a violent relationship to get to safety is an essential reason to leave home. Services are open and available to offer space to those who need it.

Violence is never okay. We all have the right to feel safe and live a violence-free life.

Survivors of domestic violence and abuse can also get help and support through a number of community resources, including Ottawa’s text and online chat tool, UnsafeatHomeOttawa.ca, available 7 days a week from 8:30 am to midnight. You can send a discreet text to 613-704-5535 if you need help. This service is now available in over 70 languages, thanks to the support of Immigrant Women Services Ottawa.

As always, look out for one another. Take care, be kind and stay well.

Thank you. Merci. Meegwetch.

April 19, 2021 – Joint Special Statement from Dr. Vera Etches and Anthony Di Monte, General Manager, Emergency and Protective Services Department

Ottawa Public Health (OPH) and the City of Ottawa are working to ensure that all Ottawa residents who want to receive the COVID-19 vaccine will be able to access it as quickly and efficiently as possible. All essential workers of any age who want to be vaccinated against COVID-19 are anticipated to be vaccinated with their first dose by the end of June 2021, sooner if supplies of vaccine increase.

In December 2020, the Province of Ontario released its Ethical framework for COVID-19 vaccine distribution. This framework aligns with guidance from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) and Health Canada, which is evidence-informed and helps guide planning for the efficient, effective and equitable allocation of COVID-19 vaccines in the context of limited vaccine supply. The provincial ethical framework is based on the principals of stewardship, trust, equity and transparency. It evaluates the patient population risk of exposure, the risk of severe disease or outcomes and health system capacity to ensure ongoing care to the population.

As vaccine supply continues to be limited, OPH and the City of Ottawa have been and will continue to follow the provincial ethical framework and the Province’s three-phased vaccine distribution plan.

While significant progress has been made in vaccinating Phase 1 populations, not all individuals who are eligible to be vaccinated in Phase 1 have received their first dose.

Notwithstanding that vaccination of some Phase 1 populations is ongoing, on April 6, 2021 the Government of Ontario announced that it was moving to Phase 2 of its COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Plan, which places primary and initial priority on:  

  • Older adults
  • Individuals in "hot spot" communities where COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted certain neighbourhoods;
  • Individuals with the highest risk health conditions and their caregiver;
  • People who live and work in congregate settings and some essential caregivers;

The sequencing of populations in the provincial Phase 2 plan supports OPH’s goal of reducing the risk for people who are more severely impacted by COVID-19 in Ottawa. In four neighbourhoods with some of the highest rates of COVID-19, where many essential workers live, people over 50 are now eligible for vaccine through the provincial booking system. In other priority neighbourhoods, people over 50 are eligible through OPH’s pop-up clinic process. Ottawa’s vaccination program for the general population started with a postal code-based approach to protect people over 80 in priority neighbourhoods. High priority neighbourhoods are defined as those that are most impacted by COVID-19 based on rates of COVID-19 and Ottawa Neighbourhood Study (ONS) data on disadvantaged communities. In addition, the City and OPH are reviewing communities in other neighbourhoods who are also disproportionally impacted by COVID-19 and considerations will be made for these communities as the vaccine roll out continues.

The City’s Emergency Operations Centre is now overseeing multiple initiatives to reach workers and residents 50 and above in high priority neighbourhoods in line with the Phase 2 priority. Ottawa’s strategy to make vaccine more accessible in lower income and racialized communities is leading to greater equity in who is being vaccinated. As vaccine supply allows, the eligible age in neighbourhoods at higher risk may be lowered by the province.

Vaccine continues to be prioritized for all adults 55, and over via pharmacies and primary care, changing to 40 and over as of April 20th, and 60 and over in mass vaccination clinics as the majority of hospitalizations, ICU admissions and deaths, continue to be of people over 50 years of age. At this point, 60% of people in their 60s remain to be vaccinated, and 75% of people in their 50s have not yet been immunized. Preventing each hospitalization possible is important as hospitals are already pressed to provide intensive care for current and projected COVID-19 patients. Vaccine supply should protect all people in their 60s who want to be vaccinated near the end of April and most people in their 50s by mid-May, allowing a shift to greater allocations to workers of younger ages who cannot work from home.

Individuals with the highest risk health conditions (organ transplant recipients, some cancer patients, renal disease patients and people with neurologic diseases in which respiratory function may be compromised) are now also eligible to pre-register for vaccination. These individuals will be provided with booking information through their hospital programs as appointments become available. Vaccinating this population could take weeks, depending on sequencing and vaccine availability.

People who live and work in congregate settings, and some associated caregivers, are being reached with COVID-19 vaccine through dedicated initiatives, starting with higher risk settings.

Further, during an April 7, 2021 press conference, the Premier of Ontario announced that, the Province would be moving to open vaccination bookings to  workers who support students with special education needs, beginning the week of April 12th, 2021. OPH and the City of Ottawa began vaccinating Ottawa’s special education workers that week, based on a list of eligible workers compiled with the assistance of Ottawa school boards.

When all reasonable efforts have been made to offer a first dose of vaccine to all those within the Primary Priority groups in Phase 2, the Secondary Priority groups will begin, possibly mid-May.  The Second Priority of any-aged essential workers who cannot work from home, will start with education and childcare workers, food manufacturing workers and workers who respond to critical events, among others.

We are grateful for the critical work done by people who cannot work from home. We are encouraging essential workers to access vaccine as it first becomes available to them, such as by age or neighbourhood. “Workers who cannot work from home” is a broad category that includes many priority groups whose members may be eligible to be vaccinated based on age or other factors before the Second Priority part of Phase 2 begins. 

Because vaccines will not be available for even the first group of essential workers all at once, the Ottawa Vaccine Sequencing Task Force will be considering how further prioritization may be achieved within the Secondary Priority group. Following the principle of equity, the local Sequencing Task Force will be asked to consider how best to prioritize special education workers in childcare settings.

Residents who are not yet eligible are encouraged to sign up for the COVID-19 vaccine update e-subscription to receive email updates on the vaccine roll-out. If they are not online, they are encouraged to ask a family member, neighbour or friend to sign up and let them know when they are eligible for the vaccine. OPH and the City of Ottawa will continue broad communications plans to provide more information as it becomes available.

We continue to ramp up our vaccination efforts as we receive additional vaccine supply and encourage residents to keep visiting OttawaPublicHealth.ca/COVID19vaccine or the City of Ottawa website for the latest information on this ever-evolving situation. Residents can also visit OPH’s COVID-19 Vaccination Dashboard for up-to-date data on COVID-19 vaccinations in Ottawa. The dashboard is updated at 12:30 p.m. every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

In the context of limited vaccine supply and higher levels of COVID-19 transmission across the City of Ottawa, we will continue to focus our efforts on vaccinating individuals who are most at risk of serious illness and death due to COVID-19.

April 09, 2021 – Special statement from Dr. Vera Etches

As I indicated to the Province on Monday, the COVID situation in Ottawa is extremely concerning and we need further restrictions to bend the curve. Hospitalizations are at an all-time high since the beginning of the pandemic and surgeries are being cancelled for the first time since last March. Younger people are being admitted to hospital. More people than ever are testing positive for COVID-19. We are no longer able to maintain contact tracing follow-ups with high-risk contacts in settings outside of schools and congregate or healthcare. And variants of concern are now established and making up the majority of the virus detected in Ottawa’s wastewater.

We are seeing transmission across Ottawa in a variety of settings including workplaces, restaurant patios, in breakrooms, at after-work gatherings, parties, carpools and sleepovers. It is simple: The risk exists wherever people from different households gather and protective measures are not being followed, namely physical distancing and masking. 

I want to remind everyone that this virus is tricky; not everyone with COVID-19 will have symptoms. That is why even if you are feeling fine, you still must follow the prevention measures in place – again, namely masking and distancing – when you are around others outside your household. That includes people you know, love and trust – friends, extended family, colleagues and neighbours.

***

Schools

One of our main goals has always been to keep schools open. There are harms associated with closing schools. This includes impacts on mental health for all members of the family, stress and financial impacts for parents and caregivers who can’t afford childcare and developmental impacts on children and youth who are missing out on important social connections.

It is therefore with a heavy heart that I am now thinking the probability that schools will close to in-person learning following the spring break is higher than the probability that the COVID-19 situation will improve in time to keep schools open.

There have been new school outbreaks this week, but the overall number of outbreaks has remained fairly stable and it is still a minority of schools that are affected by people testing positive. Public health and school staff are working hard to manage the growing number of people exposed in the community who are then positive in schools.

However, context that has changed this week includes:

  • The level of COVID-19 in the community has continued to grow to levels higher than we have seen, demonstrated by the wastewater signal continuing its steep climb; and
  • the percent of people testing positive has reached new heights in adults, with some people having to wait to access testing.
  • Also, a provincial Stay At Home Order came into effect yesterday, which closes the malls and places that students may have gathered if not in school, so this risk is mitigated.

This leads me to give notice of a school closure being more likely than not following the spring break, as we need to do everything we can to turn this curve. The team will continue to review the situation and provide confirmation of a decision by Wednesday of next week at the latest. Other countries have consistently added school closures to strict lockdown measures to bring numbers down. Closing schools will underline the seriousness of the situation and assist people to stay at home as much as possible, reducing mixing of students before and after school.

***

Letter of Instruction

In addition to the new provincial restrictions, I am issuing a Letter of Instruction to all employers, businesses and organizations permitted to be open to take the additional measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 effective Saturday, April 10 at 5 am.
These new measures include:

  • increased reporting requirements when two or more people test positive for COVID-19 within a 14-day interval in connection to the workplace;
  • ensuring that all employees are aware of any benefits and/or pay to which they may be entitled in the event that they must isolate; and
  • Requirements to actively monitor and manage capacity limits in businesses, and physical distancing and masking in outdoor line ups as people wait to access the business. At minimum one staff person must be designated to monitor and manage the applicable capacity limit and verify compliance with the physical distancing and mask-wearing requirements of individuals in line-ups.
  • Documentation of how your workplace will do this, is required in your workplace COVID-19 safety plan

Full details of this letter can be found on ottawapublichealth.ca.

***

High-priority neighbourhoods

The Province of Ontario announced the extension of vaccine appointments at community clinics to residents aged 50 and older who live in certain “hot spots”. These are large geographic areas that have more advantaged and less advantaged populations within them.

As Medical Officer of Health, I have the authority to further focus on neighbourhoods, based on local considerations of who is at greatest risk of COVID-19. Therefore, we will continue to focus future pop-up clinics, walk-in options and mobile strategies in the high-priority neighbourhoods previously identified.

Our primary goal is to protect the people most at risk for hospitalization and death as a result of COVID-19. This strategy helps to prevent hospitalizations and deaths when vaccine doses are still limited. We must continue to protect people over 60 across Ottawa, people over 55 through pharmacies and people over 50 in neighbourhood-based approaches, as the majority of people being hospitalized are still older adults.

In addition to the neighbourhoods of focus in Phase 1, the City and OPH are reviewing data for other neighbourhoods which may also be disproportionally impacted by COVID-19 and considerations will be made for support to other communities as the vaccine rollout continues.

***

You’ve heard the COVID-19 response referred to as a marathon, not a sprint. Looking back to when this started, I think we can all see that now.

We have been “training” for more than a year.

We are tired, fatigued and we want this to be over.

This is the point in our COVID marathon where we are hitting the wall.

This is our defining moment. The moment we break through the wall by taking one careful step at a time. The moment we dedicate each step to getting us toward the end of this.

We will not give up. We will not fall.

Vaccines are our fuel, and so are our behaviours.

And those, together, are what will get us across that finish line.

Thank you. Merci. Meegwetch.

March 31, 2021 – Special statement from Dr. Vera Etches

I want to thank our hospital partners for joining us today to share this important message.

My counterparts represent healthcare workers who have been at the front lines of the pandemic for 13 months. While hospital staff are resilient, resourceful and brave, they are also human. They are exhausted and we share the responsibility as a community to support one another to reduce the pressure on our healthcare system and keep it functioning for all of us, when we need it.

Ottawa Public Health continues to report daily new numbers in the triple digits when it comes to people testing positive for COVID-19. 117 today. 112 yesterday. 184 Monday. The rate has doubled in the last two weeks since we moved to Red-Control Zone of the provincial framework. That move has not turned the curve.

The rate of COVID per 100,000 people is 91.6. The Rt number is 1.2 and our per cent positivity is 5.9%. These are all well above the threshold for Red-Control and increasing. And as our hospital partners will tell you today, hospitalizations are once again on the rise as are the number of people in intensive care units.

Our healthcare system is stretched. Cases are rising, hospitalizations are increasing, the testing centres are maxed out, and our case management team is no longer able to contact trace as we have through previous surges. We are currently seeing an average of four high-risk contacts per individual who tests positive. And with 117 new positive results today, that means almost five hundred high-risk contacts today alone. OPH will continue to follow up with individuals who test positive for COVID-19, but we will be asking them to be responsible for notifying their close contacts.

The places COVID spreads the most continue to be private gatherings such as parties, barbecues and after-work get-togethers and team sports, even outdoors, where public health measures like physical distancing and mask wearing are not followed.

The variants of concern are taking over in the wastewater, having grown from 10 per cent on March 20 to 50 per cent of all the COVID detected on March 25. This demonstrates their higher rate of transmission compared to non-variant of concern COVID-19 types.

While we are seeing transmission among all age groups, the majority of transmission is still occurring in the 20 to 39 age group. This age group will not be protected by vaccine for months. Younger people are showing up in the hospital. And earlier this week, the community lost someone in their 40s to COVID-19.

This needs to be very clear: COVID-19 affects all of us and this virus does not discriminate. COVID-19 is everywhere.

While OPH and partners are focused on working in areas with higher rates of COVID-19 and reaching younger people, the virus is present in all types of settings across the city.

At times we feel safer with close friends or family. We wrongfully equate not wearing a mask with trusting one another. Some people may still be observing a "bubble" with others, but with variants of concern, asymptomatic transmission, and numbers as high as they are - now is not a time to feel safe and let down our guard around others outside of our immediate household.

We have always said that our individual actions matter. We have encouraged residents to be vigilant, check your blind spots and adjust your behaviours. And for so long, you have done that. So, to call our current situation disheartening, after all the work residents have put in, would be a gross understatement. We are seeing what we feared; the vaccine hasn’t arrived in time to outpace the growth of COVID in the community. We are at a point we have never seen before during this pandemic.

If we do not get the levels of COVID-19 back under control, we will see stronger lockdowns like we’ve seen in other countries around the world, and for longer. We will see more businesses suffer. We will see our health care system once again become overwhelmed. We will see people in hospital hallways on stretchers. Health care workers won’t be able to come into work because their children are waiting for a COVID test result. We are already tapping into an exhausted health care sector and we only have so many trained staff available to test, contact trace, vaccinate, and treat. We need them for more than just COVID. And they are all tired. We are all tired.

In addition to our own individual behaviours, further restrictions are needed in our city to manage the situation. These discussions are currently underway.

Until enough of the population is protected – and this will take months – we need to do more to stop the spread of COVID.

We need to take a pause on indoor gatherings and dining indoors with people outside our household. We need to take a pause on outdoor gatherings where people are coming into close contact with others, such as barbecues and contact sports.

This weekend is the Easter long weekend. Do not gather with people you don’t live with except for essential caregivers or if you live alone. Do not gather with friends or extended family indoors. Do not share meals. Do find new ways to celebrate. The signs of spring that are starting to show. Do get outside. Focus on outdoor activities where you can maintain distance from others you don’t live with, and wear a mask. But please understand that while outdoors reduces the risk of transmission, it does not remove the risk entirely.

Ottawa, we will see this through. I am optimistic about what the summer will bring. But we aren’t there yet. We aren’t there yet.

The higher the rate of COVID in the community now, the longer it will take for vaccines to make an impact. For the next few months, we need to keep up with these measures.

Thank you. Merci. Meegwetch.

March 24, 2021 – Special statement from Dr. Vera Etches

Bonjour. Kwey. Hello.

As we acknowledge one year since the first loss of an Ottawa community member to COVID-19, I want to take a moment to acknowledge the losses so many have experienced. The numbers on Ottawa Public Health’s dashboard represent people – grandparents, mothers, fathers, siblings, aunts, uncles, friends. Neighbours, knowledge keepers, people we passed on the street, on the bus.  Our collective efforts will prevent more loss, as will the vaccinations that are just starting to make a difference for older adults’ risk in our community.

We continue to receive questions about what people who have received a vaccine – just one or both doses – can and should be doing. The reality is that vaccine protection is not immediate. It takes time. And we are still learning about how vaccines prevent further transmission and protect those who received them in real world settings.

Two doses provides the maximal protection and most in our community will not have that second dose for a number of months.

I know that due to limited contact with loved ones this past year, this world has felt very small. Grandparents are excited to hug their children. People want to book their summer holidays. We all want things to go back to normal.

We simply aren’t ready for that quite yet. Soon, but not yet.

One of the biggest challenges with COVID-19 is the large percentage of asymptomatic infections, especially in children. The rates in children and youth have climbed over the last couple of weeks. 

The number of outbreaks we are seeing in hospitals is high and causing pressure on a system already strained with trying to catch up on needed procedures previously delayed. The median age of those in hospital is currently 66 – that is not an age bracket protected by vaccine yet. The more we let the COVID-19 levels rise in Ottawa, the less the vaccinations will be able to push the rates down quickly.

It’s about sticking with the basics for just a little bit longer. (Masks, distance between people outside our household.) We’re talking about months, not years. But also, not weeks.

I know a lot has been asked of Ottawa residents this last year. Many sacrifices have been made. There is still a lot we can do while remaining COVID wise as long as everyone in the household is feeling well. Look at this weather we’ve been having – I strongly encourage people to spend as much time outdoors as possible. Wear a mask, stay outdoors and maintain distance if you plan on visiting people outside your household. We can continue to support local businesses by ordering takeout or curbside pickup, going during off-peak hours and shopping alone. We can eat at a restaurant with members from our household or get a haircut – just be sure to wear a mask and provide your contact information.

If we continue to follow public health guidance we can avoid going into the Grey-Lockdown zone. Things don’t have to get worse before they get better.

Merci. Meegwetch. Thank you.

March 18, 2021 – Special statement from Dr. Vera Etches

Ottawa Public Health supports and agrees with the decision to move Ottawa into the Red-Control COVID-19 zone, effective Friday March 19, 2021 at 12:01 am – this means just after midnight tonight. 

The rate of COVID-19 in the community is too high and we have surpassed the Provincial framework’s thresholds for Red. The rate of COVID-19 in Ottawa is now 49.1 per 100,000 people (the threshold for Red is 40 per 100,000 people) and it continues to climb. The per cent positivity rate has also steadily increased and is now at 2.7 per cent (the threshold for Red is 2.5 per cent). Additionally, the wastewater indicators are at peak levels last seen back in October and January when more restrictions were required to bring COVID-19 levels down. Hospitals in our city are currently working at or over capacity to handle the backlog of critical health care services and COVID-19 patients. And, the number of variants of concern are growing exponentially and are leading to the closure of some schools.  

The higher the levels of virus in the community, the higher the risk of COVID-19 reaching more vulnerable settings like childcare, schools, health care and congregate settings not yet reached by vaccinations.

While Ottawa’s limited COVID-19 vaccine supplies have reached some of our community’s most vulnerable in long-term care and retirement home settings, I must caution that we are still months away from protecting the majority of older adult and other populations at risk of hospitalizations and death. Only about 30 per cent of people over the age of 80 have been protected. Although vaccination efforts are accelerating with every shipment received, this won’t be overnight; Ottawa remains in a public health pandemic.

The earlier we act together, the more effectively we will reduce rates of COVID-19 and the sooner we can move into a less restrictive zone.

If levels rise, more harsh restrictions for a longer duration would be required which is shown by evidence from around the world and experiences in Ontario and lessons learned here in Ottawa over the last year.  

Ottawa has never before operated under the Red-Control Zone from the latest Provincial framework; we went from Orange-Restrict into the Grey-Lockdown with the rest of Ontario in December.  Ottawa however had reached provincial Red Zone thresholds for COVID-19 indicators just prior to moving to Grey and maintained these levels most of January.

Interventions in the Red zone include limits for all organized public events and social gatherings, where physical distancing can be maintained, with five people indoors and 25 people outdoors. Religious ceremonies and gatherings, including weddings and funeral services, are still allowed but with more restrictions where physical distancing can be maintained to 30 per cent capacity of the room indoors, or 100 people outdoors.

Most businesses will remain open, this is not a lockdown. Restaurants and gyms can stay open however these are higher risk activities and places where people are in close contact without a mask is where COVID-19 transmission is higher. There is now a capacity limit of 10 patrons seated indoors and for gyms a maximum of 10 people in indoor areas with weights and exercise machines or for classes, with physical distancing maintained at all times. Individual and team sport training is still allowed, however games, scrimmages or other contact are not permitted. And, indoor cinemas are required to close. 

We know that moving into the Red-Control Zone is going to be very difficult for many business owners, like restaurants and gyms. You have worked hard to keep your businesses open. And while capacity limits can be frustrating for business owners, we know that further restrictions are needed to limit the risk of transmission due to close contact. I want to encourage people in Ottawa to now, more than ever, support local businesses by ordering takeout, using curbside pickup and helping our friends, family and neighbours keep their livelihoods in these difficult times.  

By moving into Red-Control now, we are sending a clear signal that more action is required to reduce COVID levels in our community. We need to do what we know has worked for us in the previous months.

Limit contacts and interactions, stay home as much as possible and especially if you are sick, wear a mask, wash your hands often and get tested if you think you may be infected. Doing these things will help decrease levels in the community to avoid another lockdown.

We are now days away from the start of spring 2021. We have lived through an incredibly hard year. And now I am asking you to do more hard things, again. But we are now seeing our most vulnerable residents getting vaccinated and by getting the COVID vaccine, this means this spring can be very different than last spring. Vaccination and continuing to follow proven public health measures will keep us safer and will lead to fewer deaths and hospitalizations.  

We can do this. I know we can. Please keep going and please take care of yourselves and each other.  

Merci. Thank you. Meegwetch.

March 16, 2021 – Special statement from Dr. Vera Etches

Bonjour. Kwey. Hello.

Many have expressed that the quantity of vaccine that has been available to immunize people in Ottawa has felt frustratingly low, and I am now encouraged that the supplies in recent weeks have allowed us to make progress in protecting older adults and others at higher risk of hospitalization and death in the community.

I am thankful for the Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health and Akausivik Inuit Family Health Team for their hard work and partnership to help protect people who are at most risk of COVID-19. On average, Indigenous peoples are more severely affected by respiratory-type diseases like COVID-19 and have a life expectancy lower than for non-Indigenous Canadians, which is related to lower income, racism and discrimination and other social determinants of health.

To date, more than 2,000 people have received vaccine at Ottawa’s clinics for First Nation, Inuit and Métis community members.  

Ottawa’s first community pop-up clinics for adults 80 years old and above in neighbourhoods with higher rates of COVID-19 opened two weeks ago, Ottawa’s first community vaccination clinic at the Nepean Sportsplex opened for all adults 90 years old and above last week, and this week marks the opening of community vaccine clinics available for all adults 80 years and over in Ottawa. At this point,  12,785 people over 80 have received a COVID-19 vaccine.

I’m seeing the hope older adults and their families are feeling as the prospect of getting vaccinated against COVID-19 has become a tangible reality. I’m hearing of the relief people booking appointments for their parents, grandparents and loved ones are expressing. I am encouraged to see community members helping one another with booking and transportation for those who are currently eligible. While many are anxious about when their turn will come, the answer is “within weeks” vs. “months” for many people. More detail will come from the province about the Phase 2 rollout.

Improved access to vaccine with increasing supply has also extended to the healthcare workers who protect people at greater risk of severe outcomes. Since the launch of the pre-registration online tool for healthcare workers in the provincial categories of “highest priority” and “very high priority”, 11,000 people have provided their information, which is now being used to provide an orderly booking of this population.

I am also happy to announce that on Tuesday, March 23 from 10:30 am to noon, the Ottawa Disability Coalition, Ottawa Public Health and the City of Ottawa Accessibility Office will host a virtual COVID-19 Vaccination Forum for People with Disabilities. This virtual event is open to all residents, with a focus on people with disabilities and caregivers. To register, watch for links from OPH and the City’s Twitter and Facebook accounts in the coming days.

OPH is working with diverse community partners to promote vaccine uptake and increase vaccine confidence, to understand ways to ensure equitable distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine to populations and communities disproportionately impacted, such as the Black community, and to clearly communicate how, when and where to access vaccine clinics.

Every day we get a little bit closer to providing vaccine protection to everyone who wants one in Ottawa. But as we all know, we are not quite there yet. In the meantime, we must all continue to follow the public health measures in place including maintaining physical distancing from those you don’t live with, wearing a mask, washing your hands, and staying home if you’re sick except to get tested.

Ottawa has passed the thresholds for being in the “red” zone of the provincial framework used to implement measures to control COVID-19 spread.

The rate of people testing positive for COVID-19 has been above 40/100,000 for four consecutive days and the percent testing positive is now 2.5%. This means we have had too many situations where transmission has occurred due to people being in close contact without a mask. We now expect that the provincial restrictions in the red zone, such as restaurant occupancy of 10 people indoors and the closure of indoor cinemas, will apply within the next week.

It can’t be said enough how adaptable and resilient the people of Ottawa are. I know we have what it takes to keep COVID-19 levels manageable if we maintain the protective behaviours that we have been practicing for more than a year now. 

For everyone celebrating tomorrow, I wish you a safe and happy St. Patrick’s Day. For my family, we will be wearing green and playing some Irish music for an after-dinner family dance in the living room.

Thank you. Merci. Meegwetch.

March 09, 2021 – Special statement from Dr. Vera Etches

We are approaching the one-year mark from when we announced the first person to test positive for COVID-19 in Ottawa, and from when the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. This has been the most challenging year of many of our lives, and certainly of my career and personal life. But every day I am more amazed at the resilience, bravery and strength of our community.

Together, we have adapted to extraordinary circumstances in many different areas, and yet we forge ahead.

And while there are still many months of hard work ahead of us, we have turned a corner with the progress we’ve made on vaccines.

As the General Manager of Emergency and Protective Services Mr. Di Monte mentioned, starting Wednesday, March 10, patient-facing health care workers, in the provincial category now eligible, “very high priority”, such as doctors, dentists, nurse practitioners, midwives and physiotherapists will be able to visit ottawapublichealth.ca to pre-register for a vaccination appointment. Once the provincial booking system is stood up, the pre-registration system will link to the provincial booking system in the background to notify healthcare workers of how to book their specific appointment time for vaccination. Until then, some healthcare workers will be contacted through the usual booking system by our hospital partners using the pre-registration information submitted.

I want to thank all health care workers for your selfless and courageous work during the pandemic. As a family physician colleague, I know the care and compassion you bring to your patients. You are heroes for what you do. Thank you for keeping our community safer during this pandemic. I want to thank you for your patience and maintaining professionalism through such a challenging time.

I’ll also provide a quick reminder to Indigenous community members that vaccinations are being provided by the Wabano Centre for First Nations, Inuit and Métis community members 50 years of age and older at the St-Laurent Complex vaccination site. Appointments can be booked by calling Ottawa Public Health at 613-691-5505. The Akausivik Family Medical Centre is also vaccinating Inuit individuals 50 years of age and older. Call the Akausivik Inuit Family Health Team at 613-740-0999 to book an appointment at this site. Frontline staff from Indigenous community agencies delivering any type of health service can book an appointment to get vaccinated by calling either Akausivik or OPH to book an appointment at one of these two clinic options.

The latest monitoring indicators show that while the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 is relatively stable, we have had a sharp rise of COVID in our wastewater. History has shown that whenever wastewater indicators go up, the number of people who test positive follows suit. Hospitalizations are back up and so is the percent of people testing positive. We are seeing new  outbreaks everyday, and our rate of COVID-19 is at 37 per 100,000 people, not far from the threshold for red which is 40.

While nearly half of the people testing positive for COVID-19 are household contacts, we are seeing more transmission occurring in private gatherings and among sports teams, including middle-aged and older adult sports teams. Similar to what we saw in the fall, transmission is happening in changerooms, from carpools, pick-up games without readily available contact tracing information and social activities before and after. Although training is still permitted, team sports and activities are considered high risk. COVID-19 does not distinguish between a game or a practice, so it is important to use the same core principles of mask wearing, physical distancing, handwashing and staying home when sick to reduce the transmission of the virus.

It can be incredibly difficult – for some more than others – to self-isolate, especially for those who have families. I want to remind residents that there are resources to help you. The City’s Human Needs Task Force was implemented as part of the City’s Emergency Management Plan and emergency response to COVID-19 to ensure that we are responsive to the emerging needs of the community. Sometimes it’s difficult for those in crisis to connect themselves, so don’t hesitate to reach out for help on someone else’s behalf.

Additionally, if you are unable to self-isolate from others at home, Ottawa has a Voluntary Isolation Centre for people who do not have access to an adequate shelter or cannot self-isolate safely in their own homes. There are no costs to individuals who need to stay at the centre. This is an opportunity for people to rest and recover, without fear or anxiety of transmitting the virus to their family, loved ones, roommates and others they live with. Voluntary isolation is a proven way to help reduce the risks of spreading the virus among household contacts.

Visit ottawapublichealth.ca/self-isolate for more information, including tips on how to isolate safely at home.

When it comes to self-isolation, please be kind to our case managers as they work hard to navigate each unique case and contact's circumstances to provide the most responsible advice to keep you and your family safe and healthy. Our case managers and contact tracers are working tirelessly to trace every contact possible to keep schools safe and businesses open - they want to give you the best information, resources, and individualized care. In return, I ask that you show co-operation, patience, and kindness.

Near this sad anniversary, I must thank the entire Ottawa Public Health team, and city and healthcare partners, who have been working and collaborating at such an impressive level to protect our population. OPH team members are supporting schools, building new IT systems and analyzing data, scheduling staff, engaging community leaders, maintaining as much essential public health support as possible to families with young children, addressing mental health and substance use needs, following up on other infectious diseases like hepatitis A and tuberculosis, informing the Official Plan to build a healthy city, fixing cavities and abscessed teeth…the list goes on and I am so grateful for the team’s dedication and expertise.

And, I want to thank each and every one of you for everything you’ve done this past year and continue to do as we brace ourselves for a few more months of hard work and patience. Soon, this pandemic will be behind us. Until then, we need to buy time by keeping up with our public health behaviours: limiting your close contacts to only your household, keeping two metres distance from others, wearing a mask, washing your hands and following public health guidance around self-isolation, staying home and getting tested.

Yesterday, I was sitting with my morning tea and heard birds chirping outside my window. It reminded me that spring is just around the corner. And with the spring comes warmer weather, longer days and for those who may not enjoy winter as much as others, the desire to spend more time outdoors. I found myself feeling hopeful for a brighter and better summer than the last. Maybe not quite like the summers before COVID just yet, but we’ll get there. One step, one day, one vaccine at a time.

Merci. Meegwetch. Thank you.

March 03, 2021 – Special statement from Dr. Vera Etches

Hello. Bonjour. Kwey.

Vaccines in shelters

As Mr. Di Monte mentioned, we are now working to vaccinate residents in congregate care settings serving seniors such as hospices and those in shelters.

COVID-19 has had a significant impact on Ottawa’s shelter system, with all shelters having now experienced an outbreak and one-quarter of the clients, about 220 people, having tested positive for the virus since mid-January.

The upcoming vaccination of shelter clients is tremendous news for people living and working in shelters. An estimated 860 shelter clients will be vaccinated, starting this week, by Ottawa Inner City Health, working with Ottawa Public Health.

And we’ll continue to work with the City, shelter operators for people experiencing homelessness, and Ottawa Inner City Health to manage and mitigate COVID-19 outbreaks in this community.

The latest trends in Ottawa

Ottawa remains in the Orange – Restrict zone according to the latest trends in our monitoring indicators. Our collective goal is to reduce COVID-19 rates to be able to move to fewer restrictions under the provincial framework and less pressure on the healthcare system. However, rates are no longer decreasing and we are close to “red” category thresholds. The wastewater signal in particular has been increasing for over a week, suggesting more people are shedding the virus, perhaps unknowingly posing a risk of transmission to others.

I want to continue to thank Ottawa residents for working hard to keep numbers at a manageable level.

I also need to stress that we must not let up our actions that prevent COVID-19 transmission; we need to keep the protective measures currently in place to protect people from severe illness and death. Yes, vaccination of populations most at-risk is underway, and every day we’re turning another page on our COVID-19 story. But we’re not at the end yet. As we wait for more vaccines, we see the presence of more transmissible variants in the community.

The number of people positive for COVID-19 who have been confirmed by genetic sequencing to have a variant of concern remains 10. However, the number that have screened positive for an initial genetic indicator of a variant of concern has increased over the month to 73 now. These screen positives are likely to be confirmed as a variant of concern when the genetic sequencing is complete which could give a total as high as 83 people with a variant of concern. The stricter we are with our preventive behaviours, the better we can avoid a rapid rise in all types of COVID-19.

All of us – including those who have been vaccinated – need to keep up with the measures we know stop transmission: sticking with your household contacts, maintaining a distance from others, wearing a mask and washing your hands. If you do decide to visit with people outside of your household, there are ways to reduce the risk of transmission: stay outdoors, maintain distance, wear a mask and keep visits short.

I also want to thank people who have adhered to isolation and case management instructions. If you are contacted by a public health nurse because you tested positive for COVID-19 or if you are a close contact of someone who tested positive, please adhere to the advice the public health nurse gives you. If you have questions or concerns, contact your nurse. They are there to support you. Each time someone who is a high-risk contact stays isolated they are helping to prevent the COVID-19 rate from growing in our community.

And a reminder to parents and guardians that daily screening is still required before sending children to school. If your child, or anyone in the household, has one symptom of COVID-19, testing is strongly encouraged. And before and after school and on weekends, all family members will help prevent COVID-19 transmission by limiting close contacts with people outside of the household.

My thanks to workplaces, also, who are ensuring daily screening of all employees. Access to test results for people checking whether their symptom is caused by COVID-19 or not at an Assessment Centre continues to be speedy, with 71 per cent of results reported in less than 24 hours and 96 per cent of results reported in less than 48 hours.

Transitioning from the COD to CCM

As always, we'll continue to provide the public with updates about how Ottawa is doing based on local indicators and metrics found on our Daily COVID-19 Dashboard on OttawaPublicHealth.ca.

And speaking of our dashboard, I know many of our media partners keep a close eye on those numbers for your daily reporting. Over the next few weeks, you may notice some minor and temporary visual changes while we migrate to the provincial COVID Case Management reporting system.

Starting March 10, some graphics will be unavailable for approximately six weeks, including the source of infection graphs, and contact tracing metrics. Rest assured that this information will continue to be tracked during case management and will be available on the dashboard again once the database migration is complete.

The migration will create efficiencies, allow OPH to be connected with the provincial database for all Ontario cases, tap into a wider network of provincially trained staff and lean on centralized software development and management. 

OPH has continued to make additions and improvements to its dashboard since it was launched last spring, and it will continue to evolve and adapt according to public needs. Thank you in advance for your patience.

We’re getting a little bit closer to the end of this pandemic every day. Ottawa, I want you to know that I am hopeful. We still have many months of work ahead and we should not feel helpless; we know what to do to prevent transmission while we wait for vaccines to be ready for the general public. We have gotten through a year of this pandemic and 85 per cent of the population has avoided getting COVID-19.

Let’s not let our guards down now. We will see this through together.

Thank you. Merci. Meegwetch.

 February 11, 2021 – Special statement from Dr. Vera Etches
On Tuesday, February 16, Ottawa will transition from the shutdown measures currently in place to the revised Provincial framework. Current monitoring indicators would put us in the Orange – Restrict zone, however we have seen how quickly things can change so this is not yet a guarantee. The Province is likely to announce which zone Ottawa will transition to on Friday, February 12.

I want to thank the people of Ottawa for once again getting us to a place where we can gradually and cautiously reopen schools and some businesses. We know this hasn’t been easy. But the fact that we are in a position to slowly reopen is direct proof that our actions matter. My advice doesn’t change: we must continue with our routine behaviours that we know keep COVID-19 transmission low: wear a mask, limit close contact to the people you live with, stay two metres apart from others, stay home when you’re sick except to get tested and practice proper hand hygiene.

Next week, we will see more businesses opening. I ask you to continue to be patient when visiting businesses in person and be respectful of the public health guidelines in place.

For schools, we continue to urge parents to not mix households with other children unless it is essential for childcare.  When children are not in school or childcare, they should not be in close contact with anyone outside their household - this is crucial to keeping our children healthy and in school. If you are dropping off your child at school, please keep your distance from others and be careful not to form a crowd. Wearing a mask is recommended.

We also ask that residents not travel outside the region unless it is for essential reasons. Staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others, especially with the presence of more transmissible variants.

Right now, our focus needs to be on what’s within our control - buying time and keeping COVID-19 levels manageable until there is enough vaccine available to all eligible residents of Ottawa who wish to receive one. This will happen, and we are making progress with almost 35,000 doses administered in Ottawa to date. It will be several months until vaccines are available to the general population, and more vigorous public health measures may be required if more transmissible variants of concern take root.

Testing in schools and in the community

I want to thank parents and guardians for getting back in the habit of daily screening of children for symptoms of COVID-19 before they go to school. If your child meets the criteria, seek testing right away and ensure every member of the household stays home and self-isolates while waiting for the test results.

We will continue to work with our partners to offer onsite testing at schools, particularly to improve access to testing where there are a large number of high-risk contacts, as well as when we are seeking more information about potential transmission in a school.

Any adult in our community experiencing even just one symptom is encouraged to seek testing right away. Getting a COVID-19 test is fast, efficient and easy. Appointments for testing are often available the same or next day. Turnaround time for testing has been very quick, with 75 per cent of results received within 24 hours and 97 per cent within 48 hours. Adults can use the Workplaces and Post-Secondary Institutions screening tool.

Testing is critical to our public health response — knowing how much the virus is circulating in the community, preventing further spread and getting the virus under control will help prevent further transmission and future lockdowns.

Visit OttawaPublicHealth.ca/COVIDtesting for more information.

Upcoming holidays

We have a few holidays coming up, including the Lunar New Year, Valentine’s Day and Family Day. I encourage everyone to continue coming up with creative ways to celebrate safely while remaining COVID wise and social wise.

Provincial shutdown measures and the Stay-at-Home order will still apply during these three holidays. Residents should continue to limit trips outside the home unless for essential reasons, such as getting groceries, physical activity or for medical purposes. Please do not gather with those outside your household. If you live alone, stick with your contact(s) from one other household.

It’s looking like another beautiful (albeit cold!) long weekend, so I urge you to get outside to enjoy some fresh air with members of your household. Build a snowman, go for a romantic walk or skate with your partner or enjoy one of Ottawa’s many trails, paths and outdoor rinks.

Visit OttawaPublicHealth.ca/SocialWise or ottawa.ca for more great ideas on how to enjoy these holidays more safely.

Not too late to have your say

There is still time to have your say and participate in our latest phase of online engagement with a special focus on vaccines to help us understand the benefits and challenges people are experiencing and identify behaviours and attitudes toward vaccines. A report on results will be shared in March 2021.

OPH is here to support and ensure residents have the information they need to make informed decisions for themselves and their families.

We encourage residents to have their say and share their ideas. This phase of engagement will close on February 15, 2021. Please visit engage.ottawa.ca/covid19

Monitoring your mental health

This has been one of, if not the most, challenging time of our lives. We know the pandemic has had significant negative impacts on people’s mental health and well-being.

If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health, now is the time to have that talk - reach out, speak to someone today. Free mental health and substance use resources can be found on our website including new information how to manage mental health during the winter months.

Everyone needs a break, including me, which is why I will be taking some time off next week to get in some extra cuddles with my boys, spend more time outside exercising, and keep connected virtually with friends and family.

Let’s continue to support one another, be kind, be safe and stay well.

Steady as she goes, Ottawa.

Thank you. Merci, Meegwetch.

 February 2, 2021 – Special statement from Dr. Vera Etches

Thank you, Chair.

Hello. Bonjour. Kwey. Aingay.

We continue to see encouraging indicators that the current public health measures are working to decrease COVID-19 in our community.

You’ve heard us say this many times: we’ve done it before and we can do it again. I look forward to being able to say that we have, indeed, done it again – managed to decrease COVID-19 levels low enough to enable more services to be available again.

I want to make this abundantly clear: opening schools does not mean we are in the clear or that we are ready to ease up on the other public health measures and provincial restrictions in place. We need to continue to reduce transmission in the community as lower levels make outbreaks less likely and many workplaces are currently affected.

In other words, this is still “stay at home” except for students to attend school – an essential service for them.

We know these last several weeks have been particularly challenging. I want parents to know they don’t have to parent without support and there are resources available to help parents. Visit our Supporting Schools during COVID-19 page and our Parenting in Ottawa website for more information.

Testing in schools

I want to thank parents for getting back in the habit of daily screening of children for symptoms of COVID-19 before they go to school. If your child meets the criteria, seek testing right away and ensure every member of the household stays home and self-isolates while waiting for the test results.

We will continue to work with our partners to offer onsite testing at schools, particularly to improve access to testing where there are a large number of high-risk contacts, as well as when we are seeking more information about potential transmission in a school. 

The basics, of limiting close contacts to the people you live with, staying two metres apart from anyone outside your household, wearing a mask and washing hands often are a routine that will help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and its variants.

Special Focus: COVID-19 in Schools

Today Ottawa Public Health published a special report on COVID-19 in schools. This report, which can now be found on OttawaPublicHealth.ca, found that while limited transmission of COVID-19 occurred within schools and peaked in early October, it declined soon thereafter.

The report also showed that the vast majority – 85 per cent – of those who tested positive got their infection outside of school. And of the 55 outbreaks identified in schools, more than half involved only two individuals.

The data in this report, in addition to the negative mental health impacts of school closures on our entire community, supports the decision to reopen schools in Ottawa.

Keep up with your health and seek medical care when you need it

Our hospital partners have highlighted that older adults who test positive for COVID-19 are sometimes waiting too long before going to the emergency department, which can lead to more severe illness and death. If you have COVID-19 symptoms, please get tested. 

If you have been diagnosed with COVID-19:

  • Monitor your symptoms carefully (try keeping a journal)     
  • Don’t delay getting medical care if your symptoms worsen 
  • Remember that your condition can change rapidly
  • If your symptoms progress, help is available by booking an appointment at the COVID-19 care clinics, which are out-of-hospital clinics specifically for this virus    
  • If you need urgent care, go to the nearest emergency department, or call 911 immediately.

If you have symptoms of COVID-19 and are concerned that you may need more than just a swab, please consider making an appointment for a physician care visit at one of Ottawa’s four care clinics. At a COVID-19 Care and Testing Centre, you can see a physician and, if medically appropriate, get the following tests:

  • Chest X-ray
  • EKG
  • Basic blood work
  • Throat culture
  • COVID testing

Again, if you are in distress (e.g., significant trouble breathing, chest pain, fainting, or have a significant worsening of any chronic disease symptoms), do not go to a COVID-19 Assessment Centre or a COVID-19 Care and Testing Centre. Call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency department.

For locations and hours of the COVID-19 Assessment Centres and COVID-19 Care and Testing Centres, please visit our website.

Health care providers have also noted that fewer people are going to their medical appointments or seeking medical help out of concern of getting COVID-19. Even during a pandemic, one thing that should not change is seeking medical care when needed.  Waiting too long to get medical help can have serious consequences.

Take care of yourselves and look out for one another.

Thank you. Merci. Meegwetch.

January 28, 2021 – Special statement from Dr. Vera Etches

OPH welcomes the announcement by the Province to reopen in-person learning at schools in Ottawa starting February 1, 2021. This reinforces the importance of school attendance for the well-being of children and communities and aligns with evidence that the public health measures within school settings have been successful in preventing widespread transmission of COVID-19 in schools. 

We continue to see encouraging indicators that the current public health measures in place, and individuals’ actions to wear masks and keep distance between each other, are stabilizing the situation here in Ottawa. We are seeing improvements in our test positivity rates, the seven-day average of people testing positive continues to decrease, individuals have fewer close contacts, the reproduction “R” number is currently less than one (meaning one person who tests positive is likely passing the infection on to less than one other person on average) and wastewater counts of the virus are now starting to decline. 

I want to emphasize that opening schools does not mean we are in the clear or that we are ready to ease up on other public health measures and provincial restrictions in place. Now more than ever, we need to continue to reduce transmission in the community. This includes ensuring children do not come into contact with other children outside of the school setting, even for organized activities such as sportsclubs or socializing. Gatherings before and after school, with close contact between students without masks, are a key blind spot to address. 

In other words, this is still “stay at home” except for students to participate in school – an essential service for them. 

We have seen before that increased screening of children returning to school reveals more COVID-19 in our community.  The OPH team is anticipating number of students testing positive as they return to using the daily screening tool and realize that they meet the criteria for COVID-19 testing based on having symptoms. This will in turn have an impact on families. We expect this rise of positive tests to stabilize once students are back in school and in an environment that has demonstrated the public health measures are successful in preventing further transmission. For now, parents should start getting back into the routine of daily screening of children. 

If a person tests positive in a school setting, the cohort system allows us to rapidly identify the people who are considered close contacts and those close contacts are removed from the school setting to isolate for 14 days. 

OPH is taking steps to adjust our school team capacity, alert testing partners to increase capacity to test children, and is increasing communications to schools and families to prevent transmission and handle the situation as well as possible. Additionally, plans for rapid testing are underway and will be prioritized to improve access to testing where there are a large number of high-risk contacts, as well as when we are seeking more information about potential transmission in a school. And, the Province has strengthened their direction on masks which are now mandatory for students in grade 1 and older. (Remember: If you live in Ottawa and do not have the means to purchase a mask, call 3-1-1 or email the Human Needs Task Force at HNTF@ottawa.ca to find out how to get one). In addition to everyone doing their part to reduce the spread of COVID-19 at the community level, these measures will help ensure as safe a return to school as possible. 

We acknowledge the tireless efforts of both teachers and parents who have been working incredibly hard during this stressful time. We know this hasn’t been easy and we appreciate everything you have done for our community. School staff and parents can find resources and support on our Supporting Schools during COVID-19 page and our Parenting in Ottawa website. 

Mental health 

This year, with COVID-19 affecting every aspect of our lives, Canadians are feeling the impact of the pandemic on their mental health. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, 38 per cent of Canadians say their mental health has declined due to COVID-19, and people already struggling with their mental health were two times more likely to say their mental health has declined due to the pandemic.  

Small actions, from recognizing stressors, to being there for a loved one, can help support mental health and strengthen our communities.    

Today is Bell Let's Talk Day, an opportunity for us to keep the conversation going about mental health and reducing stigma. This year’s campaign shines a light on the actions we can all take. Whether you’re staying virtually connected with a family member, working directly with patients in recovery, investing in access to care or even just taking care of your own mental health, everyone can play a part in their communities, workplaces, schools and at home.  

Bell will donate 5 cents to Canadian mental health programs for every applicable text, local or long-distance call, tweet or TikTok video using #BellLetsTalk, every FacebookInstagramPinterestSnapchatTikTokTwitter and YouTube view of the Bell Let’s Talk Day video, and every use of the Bell Let’s Talk Facebook frame or Snapchat filter. Every action counts – please get online if you can and share this important message. Let’s work together keep this important conversation going, today and every day.  

Learn more about actions you can take to take care of your mental health and the mental health of others: https://letstalk.bell.ca/en/ways-to-help   

If you are someone you know is struggling with their mental health, now is the time to have that talk - reach out, speak to someone today. Free mental health and substance use resources can be found on our website including new information how to manage mental health during the winter months. 

Let’s continue to support one another, be kind, be safe and stay well. 

January 21, 2021 – Special statement from Dr. Vera Etches

Hello. Bonjour. Kwey. Aingay.

We are seeing a few encouraging indicators that the provincial shutdown measures which began December 26, 2020 are starting to have an impact on the COVID-19 situation here in Ottawa. We have begun to see improvements in our test positivity rates, fewer people are testing positive for COVID than in recent weeks, individuals have fewer close contacts and wastewater counts of the virus are no longer increasing.

While we would still meet the criteria for red zone in the provincial framework, this data should encourage us to maintain the behaviours that work to stop COVID-19 transmission. As you’ve heard me say before, we look at longer trends over several days and weeks, and this virus can always increase rapidly if we give it a chance. The numbers of outbreaks in institutions, workplaces and social settings continue to grow as the level of community transmission is still high.

I know it can get tiring to hear this over and over. Until we have clear protection from vaccination, we have the tools and know what works to help slow the spread of COVID-19. Each of our individual actions matter. And, we must support essential workers with protections in the workplace.

We are aiming to get back to living with manageable COVID-19 levels where schools and more businesses are open. Keeping COVID-19 manageable will require attention to the basics for many months to come. I am confident Ottawans can keep doing our best to limit close contacts to those with whom we live, stay two metres apart from others when making essential trips, wear a mask and wash our hands often. This works to lower COVID-19 levels, as we are currently seeing.

New vaccine dashboard

I understand there are many questions about the vaccine. More information about the plan to vaccinate all Ottawans who wish to receive the COVID-19 vaccine will be provided in the coming days. In the meantime, we continue to update a variety of resources about vaccines on our website, including general information, sequencing of who is next to be offered vaccine, and answers to the most commonly asked questions, in multiple languages such as Somali, Arabic, Spanish and Simplified Chinese.

I am also pleased to share that we are now publishing the number of COVID-19 vaccines supplied and administered in Ottawa. Starting Wednesday, we are including long-term care home resident vaccination coverage for the first dose as well as the total doses received by date. These numbers will appear in the OPH COVID-19 Daily Dashboard under the ‘Vaccination & Testing’ tab and will be updated three times per week on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

I can appreciate the level of interest in data related to COVID-19 vaccines. We will keep adding information about COVID-19 vaccinations as it becomes available.

Engage Ottawa: Have your say about vaccines

Earlier this week we launched the fifth phase of our online engagement survey, this time with a focus on vaccines. This is another tool that will help OPH determine what questions and concerns Ottawans have related to the vaccine. It will tell us about residents’ plans to be vaccinated, how they feel about the new vaccines, and who they speak with about vaccines. It will also give us an understanding of benefits and challenges people are having, and other behaviours and attitudes toward vaccines.

While this pandemic is unprecedented, vaccines are not. OPH is here to support and ensure residents have the information they need to make informed decisions for themselves and their families.

We encourage residents to have their say and share their ideas. This phase of engagement will close on February 12, 2021. Please visit engage.ottawa.ca/covid19.  

Extending remote learning

Ottawa Public Health continues to consult with the Province to discuss measures to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 in Ottawa and open schools as soon as possible. Reopening and keeping schools open is a top goal of the pandemic response. At this time, we understand the concern about the rate of infection in the community having implications for introduction of COVID-19 into schools. 

We appear to be turning the curve in Ottawa and OPH is ready to support a safer return to school with an added emphasis on the daily screening and testing for people with symptoms to keep COVID-19 out of schools. We are working with school boards to reinforce the infection prevention and control measures that limit COVID-19 transmission in schools.

We understand this is a challenging time for parents. We are asking all employers to please continue to be understanding if employees who are parents need to have more flexible schedules. Additionally, parents can find resources and support on our Parenting in Ottawa website, including helping your children cope during the pandemic, back to school and learning at home resources and frequently asked questions.

I'd also like to acknowledge the hard work all our teachers and school staff have been doing to provide our children with virtual education. We know this hasn't been easy for you either; we see you and we appreciate you.

When schools are ready to reopen, OPH will be there to support families and schools in as safe a return as possible.

The importance of testing children

We continue to see school-aged children and youth testing positive for COVID-19. Testing must continue even if children are not attending school in person to help make schools safer when they do return.

Although children have been participating in school virtually, the infection can spread from children to members of their household and then to others in the community. This spread has resulted in added pressures on the health care system and could lead to the extension of the lockdown and school closures. Testing and self-isolation are important tools that help decrease virus spread in the community.

Visit OttawaPublicHealth.ca/COVIDTesting for more information.

Monitoring your mental health

Last week, OPH published the latest Status of Mental Health in Ottawa During the COVID-19 Pandemic report. Findings indicated that Ottawa residents continued to report worsened mental health and emotional well-being, loneliness, weaker community connectedness and concern for burnout.

This time of year can be very difficult for many, let alone during a pandemic. These next few months are going to be a challenging time for many people, so I encourage everyone to keep tabs on your mental health.

For my family, this means setting realistic expectations – we can’t do all the work we want, or keep the house as tidy as we want, or cook every meal from scratch. We choose to focus on things most important for our family. We prioritize getting outside every day and making use of our local park which does wonders for our mental and physical health.

It is normal to feel anxious, afraid, stressed or burnt out as we continue to navigate the COVID-19 response. While this situation is stressful for everyone, people living with mental illness and addictions may be finding it especially difficult to cope. If you or someone you know is struggling, there is help. Remember: no matter where you are or what you’re going through, you don’t have to go through it alone.

Please, reach out. Many free mental health resources can be found on our website. Let’s continue to look out for one another, be kind, be safe and stay well.

Thank you. Merci. Meegwetch.

January 12, 2021 – Special statement from Dr. Vera Etches

Hello. Bonjour. Kwey.

Current trends indicate that levels of COVID-19 in our community are among the highest yet since the beginning of the pandemic. More people are testing positive, the positivity rate and hospitalizations are increasing at a rapid pace, we are seeing more outbreaks and there are more close contacts per individual testing positive. The COVID-19 wastewater viral signal continues to trend upward over the past few weeks.

All of our monitoring indicators for COVID-19 mean Ottawa is once again in crisis territory.

People of Ottawa, I need you to commit to what you are going to do next to improve the situation.

Some may have gathered with a few family members over the holidays. Some might have been in crowded stores or on crowded rinks. Children may still be playing with their best friends to blow off steam after online school classes. Others might still be meeting with friends or extended family without distance.

It’s too late to change today’s numbers. It’s not about what we did last week, or yesterday. It’s what we do next that will make a difference.

The Provincial measures announced today will support us to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the community by limiting the number of opportunities for COVID-19 transmission. While these measures make rules for public spaces, it’s what we do next – our everyday, individual decisions – that will lead us out of this difficult place.

It’s not what any of us wanted, but it’s what we need to bring levels of COVID-19 down. To stop outbreaks. To protect hospital capacity. To save lives.

We have seen how quickly things can change, even in the last few weeks. For example, on December 11, the seven-day average of people testing positive was 43. On January 11, yesterday, it was 137. Another staggering figure is the number of people testing positive by week. For the week of January 3, 1,008 people tested positive for COVID-19 - by far the highest number we’ve seen in one week since the beginning of the pandemic. What these numbers tell me is more people are coming into close contact with people from outside their households. 

Ottawa, I know you’re exhausted. I know parents are trying to balance work life, helping their children with virtual learning and their own personal life. We have data that the stress caused by this situation is significant. We need to be compassionate and realistic about what we can achieve at this time. We are asking employers to once again be compassionate and accommodating if their staff require more flexibility in their work schedules. I know businesses are struggling. People living with mental health issues are struggling. Our isolated older adults, racialized populations, caregivers, those who are more severely impacted by COVID-19. Teachers. Health care workers. Those with a loved one in long-term care. Those who have recovered from COVID. Those who have lost someone to COVID.

We are all hurting right now.

Which is why we need to band together. Crisis is a powerful teacher. We’ve learned a great deal about our strengths as well as our limits, and if there’s one thing that stands out to me it’s that we are strong and we are resilient. We will make it through this pandemic. But only when we come together as a community to support each other. We can’t do this alone. There is help available if you are struggling. Many free mental health resources can be found on our website.

This is a collective task, one where we need to support - not blame - each other through this dark time. We have the power to reduce transmission of COVID-19 in the community: limit your close contacts to those you live with plus essential supports such as childcare. Practice physical distancing, wear a mask as much as possible, wash your hands frequently and stay home except for essential reasons. These same tools and strategies will continue to bring down COVID rates in the weeks and months ahead.

So for now, Ottawa, we have a lot of work to do. We have tools that work. The goal is to get back to a place of balance, like in November and early December when we were using our tools to live with COVID, with declining or stable levels that allowed schools  and more businesses to stay open. We need to maintain these behaviours as our routine for the coming months until we have clear protection from COVID-19 vaccines. I know we can do it. We’ll continue to be in this with you every step of the way.

Thank you. Merci. Meegwetch.

January 5, 2021 – Special statement from Dr. Vera Etches
First, I’d like to wish everyone a happy, healthy new year.

Today, we round another corner with the distribution of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in long-term care homes.

As an initial rollout in Ottawa, Pfizer has lifted restrictions to allow the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines to be administered in locations outside of The Ottawa Hospital. The COVID-19 vaccine rollout will continue today starting with residents of the Perley and Rideau Veterans' Health Centre receiving the Pfizer vaccine. This is the first opportunity to bring the Pfizer vaccine to residents, when previously people could only be administered this vaccine at The Ottawa Hospital due to the cold storage requirements.

This is another encouraging milestone in our COVID-19 response. We have seen the disproportionate impact COVID-19 has had on people living and working in long-term care and retirement homes. We are now one step closer to helping protect those in the community who need it most. We are working closely with our long-term care partners, The Ottawa Hospital and the City to have all eligible residents of Ottawa’s 28 long-term care homes vaccinated against COVID-19 as soon as possible, depending on vaccine supply. 

There is cause for hope. Hope for our long-term care staff and residents, and hope for all of Ottawa.

And while it’s important to remain hopeful, we must also remain cautious and return to the practices that kept transmission low before the December holidays. Thank you to all who have been doing their best to stay home. Unfortunately, we are now securely in the red category of the Province’s framework according to our numbers and the provincewide shutdown restrictions remain in effect for Ottawa. Until vaccines are widely available it remains important to take steps to protect yourself, your loved ones and our community against COVID-19. This includes staying home as much as possible, limiting your close contacts to those in your household, keeping two metres distance from others, wearing your mask and washing your hands often. Avoid crowded places.

I am very concerned about the current situation in Ottawa so I want to address a couple of myths.

First, I am hearing that people think recent transmission is related to people not following restrictions and doing things like travel. In fact, most transmission is occurring among private gatherings with friends, family and neighbours, and more in workplaces without public health measures like mask wearing or distance.

Additionally, there seems to be a misconception that hospitalizations are mostly people from long-term care and retirement home settings. This is not currently the case. At this moment, all hospitalizations are people who are coming from the community. This includes people in their 20s, 40s, 50s and 60s. The current rate of increase in hospitalizations is not manageable. We all must remain COVID wise at all times, even when we’re outdoors. Last week the City announced a temporary mandatory mask by-law for all outdoor refrigerated and community skating rinks. To keep each other safe and reduce the transmission of COVID-19, skaters not from the same household must keep two metres apart on and off the ice. Masks are not mandatory while skating but are highly recommended.

Large crowds have been observed at outdoor skating rinks, tobogganing hills and skiing trailheads raising concern about public health and safety. As a result, I will be issuing a Section 22 Class Order under the Health Protection and Promotion Act tomorrow to all persons responsible for the ownership and operation of outdoor recreational spaces indicating the additional requirements, including signage, to maintain a physical distance of two metres. There will also be a maximum capacity of 25 people on the ice surface at any time. For tobogganing hills and ski trails, there will also be a maximum capacity of 25 people in common gathering areas such as parking lots, trailheads and at the top and bottom of hills.

As we know, physical activity and spending time outdoors is so important to our wellbeing and mental health. I encourage you to get outside and enjoy the beautiful winter amenities in Ottawa safely. Let’s be COVID Wise even when outdoors – maintain physical distance and avoid areas like rinks, hills, and trails when crowded.

The rate of the increase of COVID-19 in the community is too fast for the hospitals to be able to avoid canceling surgeries again if the rapid rise continues. Yet we know the worst numbers are likely still ahead of us as we are only starting to see the outbreaks related to gatherings over the holidays.  Outbreaks have doubled in the last week and hospitalizations are starting to increase again.

Maintaining the behaviours that stop COVID-19 transmission will also address the risk of the importation of the UK variant, which is more transmissible and which would make bringing the virus level in the community lower even more difficult. Ottawa Public Health is asking anyone who traveled from or through the UK or South Africa in December, and their close contacts, to present for COVID-19 testing at an Assessment Centre, even if asymptomatic, to assess the risk of importation of the UK variant.

Today is a good day. Vaccinating directly in long-term care homes will help save the lives of those who are most at risk. And one day soon, the vaccine will be available to everyone in Ottawa who wishes to receive it.

Until then, please stay safe, be well and look out for one another.

Thank you. Merci. Meegwetch.

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