Media statements from 2022

Read the previous special statements from officials from 2022

13 September 2022 – Statement from Dr Vera Etches

COVID-19 vaccination updates, including the OPH Weekly COVID-19 Snapshot, enable individuals to have the information to seek maximal protection against the virus as we head into fall. The months ahead are expected to include circulation of several respiratory illnesses that may once again challenge systems with serious illness and disruption of school, work and leisure activities.    

On September 12, 2022, the Province of Ontario announced that the new bivalent booster for COVID-19 is now available to Ontarians aged 18 and over. This follows recent approval from Health Canada and aligns with the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recommendations on the use of bivalent Omicron-containing mRNA COVID-19 vaccines.  

The bivalent COVID-19 booster is another layer we can use to increase protection against the most recently circulating COVID-19 variants in Ontario. Ottawa Public Health welcomes this announcement amid ongoing COVID-19 activity in our community and potential increases this fall. Over the next few weeks, we will prioritize the rollout of this booster to our communities at highest risk for severe illness, complications and hospitalization from COVID-19. Ottawa Public Health is working with its community partners to ensure the bivalent COVID-19 vaccine can reach those most at risk in our community.  

As vaccine protection and immunity from previous infection decrease over time, I strongly encourage all residents of Ottawa to get all booster doses they are eligible for ahead of what may be an active flu and respiratory illness season in our community.  

Bivalent COVID-19 booster for adults aged 18 and over 

Bivalent COVID-19 booster appointments are available immediately to highest risk populations and to all Ontarians aged 18 and over starting September 26, regardless of how many booster doses you have received.  

In order to optimize immune response and duration of protection, an interval of at least 6 months (168 days) is recommended between your last dose of COVID-19 vaccine and your fall booster dose. Individuals may choose to receive the bivalent booster as early as three months (84 days) after their last dose with informed consent.  

For those who have recently tested positive for COVID-19 on a PCR or Rapid Antigen Test (RAT), it is recommended you wait three months (84 days) since your symptom onset or positive test before getting the bivalent booster. 

 

  • Those in the highest risk populations will be able to book appointments right away with availability from September 12 and onward. This population group includes:  
    • Individuals aged 70 and over 
    • Residents of long-term care homes, retirement homes, and individuals living in other congregate settings that provide assisted-living and health services 
    • First Nation, Inuit and Métis individuals and their non-Indigenous household members aged 18 and over
    • Moderately to severely immunocompromised individuals aged 12 and over
    • Pregnant individuals aged 18 and over 
    • Health care workers aged 18 and over. 
  • Those aged 18 to 69 in the general population can start booking their appointments immediately for September 26 and onward. The availability of these appointments is dependent on supply of vaccine.  
  • All previously booked booster appointments for September 12 to 25 will be honoured and, if available, the bivalent vaccine will be offered to eligible clients. 

Individuals who meet the eligibility criteria can book their bivalent booster dose through the COVID-19 vaccination portal or by calling the Provincial Vaccine Contact Centre (PVCC) at 1-833-943-3900. Those wishing to receive their bivalent booster at a shortened interval (less than 6 months) must book directly through the PVCC. Pregnant individuals and health care workers booking from September 12 to 25 must call the PVCC or book booster dose appointments through participating pharmacies. Residents are encouraged to make an appointment as there will be no drop-in capacity for bivalent boosters. Ottawa Public Health has posted appointment availability for the general public up until mid-October while we work to reach those at highest risk over the next two weeks.  

Ottawa Public Health is working to make the bivalent booster vaccine available to older adults in long-term care homes, retirement homes and other congregate care settings. These residents may receive their bivalent booster dose directly through the congregate home where they reside. Ottawa Public Health is also prioritizing First Nations, Inuit and Métis individuals and health care workers by working directly with community partners and hospitals to make the bivalent COVID-19 booster available and support with targeted clinics. 

Reducing transmission 

Being up to date on your COVID-19 vaccine continues to be our strongest protection against COVID-19. Additionally, Ottawa Public Health continues to recommend that individuals: 

  • make a plan in the event you or someone in your household need to self-isolate, learn more about self-isolation here 

  • know if you are eligible for COVID-19 treatment and how to access the treatment as soon as possible and within 5 days from the onset of symptoms.  

COVID-19 vaccinations protect people of all ages from symptomatic illness and reduce transmission to others, booster doses build on and restore the protection of the first two doses to lower risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19 over time. The risk of longer-term COVID-19 symptoms also appear to be reduced when people are vaccinated. 

I want to thank the residents of Ottawa as we continue to work together to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 on our community and as the pandemic evolves. Now is the time to ensure those at highest risk receive their bivalent COVID-19 booster – reach out to your loved ones or to a neighbour to help them get theirs. For more information on COVID-19, including the bivalent booster, please visit: OttawaPublicHealth.ca/COVID19Vaccine.

1 September 2022 – Statement from Dr Vera Etches

On August 31, 2022, the Province of Ontario announced expansion of COVID-19 booster dose eligibility to children aged 5 to 11, as well as changes to the Provincial COVID-19 isolation guidance.

Booster Dose of COVID-19 Vaccine for Children Aged 5 to 11

The Province of Ontario recently announced expanded eligibility for COVID-19 booster doses to include children aged 5 to 11 providing an extra layer of protection ahead of the fall. The National Advisory Council on Immunization (NACI) also recently released new guidelines on the use of a first booster dose of COVID-19 vaccine in children 5 to 11 years of age.

As of 8:00 a.m. on Thursday, September 1, 2022, parents and caregivers of children aged 5 to 11 can book appointments for the paediatric COVID-19 booster dose through the provincial booking system and the Provincial Vaccine Contact Centre at 1-833-943-3900, as well as participating health care providers and select pharmacies. Drop-ins are limited, so booking an appointment is strongly encouraged. Booster appointments will be booked for approximately six months (168 days) after a second dose. To book a paediatric COVID-19 booster dose appointment online, individuals must be at least 5 years old at the time of appointment. Please visit the Ottawa Public Health webpage for clinic hours and locations.

Changes to Provincial COVID-19 Isolation Guidance

The province has also updated their isolation recommendations changing the five-day isolation recommendation to: “stay home if sick”. After isolating, wear a mask when out in public and avoid visiting vulnerable individuals at risk of severe infection and highest risk settings for 10 days from when your symptoms started.

For more details on the updated self-isolation guidance, please visit covid-19.ontario.ca/exposed.

The provincial self-assessment tool is available to those who have symptoms to help navigate self-isolation requirements specific to their unique situation, this tool can be found at: covid-19.ontario.ca/self-assessment.

Return to School

Over the last two years, Ottawa Public Health’s primary work with schools has been supporting schools and families with COVID-19. This year, we are excited to restore many of our regular services, including important services relating to students’ mental and physical health. This new school year offers the opportunity for in-person learning and extra-curricular activities at school, which are so important for the health and wellbeing of children and youth.

To reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission, Ottawa Public Health continues to recommend:

  • Screening children and youth daily for symptoms using the updated daily screening tool here: covid-19.ontario.ca/school-screening.
  • Staying home when a child or youth is sick or has any symptoms of COVID-19, staying home means:
    • Stay home until you have no fever, and your symptoms are improving for at least 24 hours (or 48 hours for gastro-intestinal symptoms).
    • Take the provincial self-assessment to see recommendations tailored to your situation here: covid-19.ontario.ca/self-assessment.
    • Continue to wear a mask, after your isolation, when out in public for 10 days from when your symptoms started.
    • Avoid non-essential visits to high risk settings (like hospitals and long-term care) for 10 days from when your symptoms started.
  • Using Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) as needed; more information about RATs, eligibility for PCR testing, assessment and treatment is available at OttawaPublicHealth.ca/COVIDTesting.
  • Ensuring children and youth are up to date with their COVID-19 vaccine. It’s never too late to get your first and your second dose. Vaccines remain your greatest tool to minimize the impact of COVID-19 on your health.

Ottawa Public Health continues to inform schools on best practices for infection prevention and control including adequate ventilation, the use of personal protective equipment, promoting vaccines and hand washing, reporting absences to OPH, and what to do when a child is sick at school. Consider wearing a mask indoors and outdoors if distancing becomes challenging or is not possible. As per the Provincial guidance, staff and students should wear a mask for 10 days from when symptoms started when returning to school after illness. It is vital that schools remain a respectful, mask-friendly space for students and educators, and we continue to work together to foster a positive learning environment for all.

General COVID-19 Vaccination for Children and Youth

COVID-19 is still present in our community, and Omicron variants are very contagious, causing a lot of illness in our homes, schools, and childcare settings. As we enter the respiratory virus season this fall, choosing to get your child vaccinated as soon as they are eligible (including booster doses) will provide the best protection from serious illness and complications from COVID-19. Ensuring your children are up to date on their routine immunizations and that they receive the flu vaccine this fall are the best ways to protect children against serious illness and complications.

It is recommended to be vaccinated even after a COVID-19 infection. Children and youth should wait at least eight weeks after the appearance of symptoms or a positive test result if there were no symptoms. There are still plenty of opportunities to access the COVID-19 vaccine in Ottawa. Anyone who is eligible and wishes to get vaccinated can do so at any of our community clinics or neighbourhood vaccine hubs. Drop-ins are limited so appointments are recommended. Find out here: where to get your child vaccinated here.

I want to thank the people of Ottawa for their continued efforts to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 in our community. Ottawa Public Health is committed to continuing to keep you informed to provide you with the best knowledge to make decisions for you and your family. I appreciate the respect for each other and the choices we make for ourselves and our families. 

Media statement from Dr. Vera Etches - Thursday, July 21, 2022

Thank you, Ottawa, for your ongoing support and efforts as we tackle yet another wave of COVID-19 in our community. Today, the province announced that children aged six months to under five years will be able to book appointments for the paediatric COVID-19 vaccine as of Thursday next week and immunocompromised youth aged 12 to 17 are now eligible for a second booster. We welcome this news, another great step forward in protecting our community and minimizing the impacts of COVID-19 on families, particularly during this latest resurgence.

I am concerned about this current wave. We are noting very high levels of COVID-19 in our wastewater and week after week this has been increasing. Our test percent positivity is also very high and increasing and our COVID-19 hospitalizations and confirmed outbreaks are both increasing as well. This is indicative that the level of COVID-19 is very high in Ottawa right now, higher than the January Omicron wave.

We know that Omicron and its sub-variants are much more transmissible. We also need to remember that we cannot rely on immunity alone to protect us. The newer Omicron sub-variants are different, and even people who previously had COVID-19 earlier this year could be susceptible to reinfection.

Individually and collectively, now is the time to reassess and adapt our behaviours to the levels of COVID-19 in the community. This is an important skill we will all need as we head into the fall. Wearing masks indoors and outdoors in crowded spaces, staying home when sick, getting booster doses, and minimizing contacts during periods of high transmission in the community are all behaviours that will help us, our families, and our loved ones. Individual actions help influence community impact. For Ottawa residents who continue to use layers of protection, thank you for leading by example. We all need to continue to assess our risk and the risk of those around us, particularly during this resurgence.

The pandemic is far from over. The warm weather has brought some much-needed respite from those hectic winter months, but now is not the time to let our guard down. Despite not seeing rates of severe illness and hospitalizations climbing as quickly as with previous waves, we need to remain mindful of the effects of COVID-19 on older adults, those with chronic health conditions, those who remain unvaccinated, and those who are immunocompromised. Among older adults, those aged 60 and over remain at high risk for severe illness and complications from COVID-19, yet over 25,000 Ottawa residents over the age of 60 have yet to access their third dose (first booster), and over 88,000 still require their fourth dose (second booster).

Nearly 900,000 Ottawa residents have received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, and nearly 600,000 have received their booster dose. I thank you for doing your part to help protect the community and in the face of Omicron and its sub-variants, we know two doses are not enough. Now is the time to get your booster dose if you have yet to do so.

Now is also the time to reach out to friends and loved ones who are not yet vaccinated or boosted. Talk to them about why you chose to get your shots. Talk to them about why it is important for them to get theirs. Show them you care. If they have any questions, our nurses are always just a phone call away. If they have barriers preventing them from accessing their vaccines, we can all help. Offer them a ride or help them to book an appointment at your local pharmacy. If people you know are not wearing their masks, lead by example. Encourage them to bring their masks with them when going out. You never know if the people you meet will be at higher risk.

We know that the pandemic has had, and continues to have, significant impacts on the business community. We all continue to have a collective responsibility to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 in our respective environments, including at local businesses where people may be at risk. Ottawa Public Health continues to strongly recommend that everyone wear a mask indoors and outdoors if distancing could become challenging or is not possible. Many businesses continue to require, encourage and welcome mask use to reduce risks for both staff and customers, and, based on the current situation, others may choose to reintroduce masking policies in their place of business at this time.

Businesses can also lead by example and encourage small actions that can make a big impact. This includes keeping physical distancing reminders in place and posting signage in their store fronts to let customers know that measures are in place to help reduce their risks when inside, like welcoming mask use, ongoing use of barriers, visual hand hygiene reminders, providing hand sanitizer on-site, and supporting and encouraging employees to get vaccinated and get boosted, and stay home when they are not well.

Together we can make a difference on the impact of COVID-19 in our community. The decisions we make today will help us all tomorrow.  

April 13, 2022 – Special statement from Dr. Vera Etches

As we approach another holiday during the pandemic, many people are making plans to gather with loved ones or attend religious ceremonies. Spending time with family and friends is important for mental health, so if you are planning to gather with others, I encourage everyone to continue to assess your individual risk and the risk of those with whom you plan to gather.

We continue to see a high level of COVID-19 in the community based on our usual indicators, including wastewater data, per cent positivity, outbreaks and hospitalizations.

Given the current high level of COVID-19 in the community, Ottawa Public Health is strongly recommending individuals to wear masks in indoor settings, particularly in situations where physical distancing may be difficult or impossible.  Consider keeping your gathering smaller and limiting the number of contacts outside your household. The weather forecast is calling for milder temperatures this weekend, so think about taking your gatherings outdoors. Keep windows or screen doors open to increase air flow. Consider the vaccination status of the individuals in attendance.

We encourage everyone to get all vaccination doses they are eligible for – for those 60 and older, that means a fourth dose. Booster doses significantly reduce the risk of severe illness and lower the risk of transmission. More information on eligibility can be found on our website. People may choose to book their 4th dose after 3 months for additional protection during this resurgence by calling the provincial vaccine booking line, rather than at the automatic 5-month interval using the online booking system.

And as always, if you are feeling sick, stay home. Even if you test negative on a rapid test, stay home and do not attend any gatherings if you’re feeling sick. We are aware of other viruses circulating in the community, including gastrointestinal illness. This may present differently than COVID-19, but it is still important to stay home when sick and to use layers of protection to reduce transmission and keep others well. If you have symptoms or test positive be sure to follow isolation instructions to reduce the risk of transmission, more information is available at OttawaPublicHealth.ca/Self-Isolate.  

The Province of Ontario has recently expanded eligibility for testing and COVID-19 antiviral treatments for people with symptoms who are at higher risk of severe COVID-19. These treatments must be taken within the first five days of symptom onset. More information on treatment can be found at OttawaPublicHealth.ca/COVIDAntiviral.

We are still in the middle of a significant wave and taking these precautions will help slow the spread of COVID-19 in our community.

I know that hearing the same message for two years is not easy. Sharing this message is not easy. We have been through – and continue to navigate – a significant event that will leave an imprint on our lives forever. We don't yet know long COVID will be present in the community, or to what extent, but we've been at this for 25 long months and we will see this through with you. Such measures will not always be needed, but are useful to go back to in times of high levels of COVID-19 in the community.

So for now, continue to take care of each other.

Be kind. Be well. And be safe.

Thank you. Merci. Meegwetch. 

April 7, 2022 – Special statement from Champlain region’s hospital Chiefs of Staff and Medical Officers of Health

COVID-19 on the rise again in Eastern Ontario: What you can do

The level of COVID-19 in the Champlain region is on the rise. The COVID-19 wastewater viral signal is increasing in the region and is at record levels in Ottawa. In addition, test per cent positivity across the region is high and increasing, according to regional public health units.

In response, every hospital Chief of Staff and every public health unit Medical Officer of Health in the Champlain region are coming together to highly recommend the following four things that you can do right now to protect yourself, your family, and your community, with the goal of reducing severe illness and hospitalization:

  1. Get vaccinated with all the doses you are eligible for.
  2. Limit your close contacts.
  3. Wear a mask in indoor public spaces.
  4. Stay home if you are sick.

To book a vaccine, please visit COVID-19 vaccines for Ontario. For residents in the Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit, please visit their Vaccine Booking page.

If you know or suspect you have COVID-19 and need to be assessed by a clinician, below are some options for accessing care. When possible, please check with your primary care provider first. Also, please check the specific criteria for each clinic.

Thank you for doing what you can to help keep yourself and those around you safe during this time of uncertainty amid the rising levels of COVID-19.

Champlain Region Hospital Chiefs of Staff

Medical Officers of Health within Eastern Ontario 

Media contacts

March 30, 2022 – Special statement from Dr. Vera Etches

We continue to see evidence that the level of COVID-19 in Ottawa is rising. The COVID-19 wastewater viral signal is very high and increasing, as is Ottawa’s test per cent positivity. Hospitalizations and outbreaks are currently stable however we know these are lagging indicators and wastewater levels can provide an early signal of trends to follow. Today, Ottawa Public Health posted on social media a snapshot of the trends we are seeing in Ottawa.

The pandemic is not over and we are currently experiencing another resurgence.

Ottawa Public Health has informed the office of Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health of the concerning levels of COVID-19 in Ottawa and the province is carefully monitoring the impact on health system capacity.  Ottawa Public Health is also reaching out directly to people over 50 who could benefit from another vaccine dose.

We highly recommend Ottawa residents to get vaccinated with all the doses of the COVID-19 vaccine that you are eligible for as soon as possible. Compared to two doses, a third dose provides stronger protection against hospitalization, as well as symptomatic infection. For some at higher risk, a fourth dose is needed. Visit our website regularly for the latest information on vaccine eligibility and to stay up to date.

We also highly recommend individuals to continue wearing a mask indoors especially when physical distancing may not be possible or proves to be challenging in crowded areas.

If you become unwell or have any symptoms, stay home. Do not attend work or go to school when you are sick, and have a plan in the event you or someone in your household needs to isolate.

Some people experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, feeling increasingly unwell or suspect they have COVID-19 may be eligible for clinical assessment and antiviral treatment. Visit the Province of Ontario’s website or speak to your primary care provider for more information about COVID-19 antiviral treatment.

We will continue to monitor these indicators and keep you informed. Visit our website often and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

March 24, 2022 - Special statement, Dr. Brent Moloughney, Deputy Medical Officer of Health

COVID-19 levels in Ottawa

Currently we are seeing evidence of an increase in COVID-19 transmission in Ottawa. Over the past week, the wastewater viral signal and percentage of tests that are positive have continued to increase. We are seeing a slight increase in outbreaks and our hospitalizations are stable, however previous trends have shown that there is often a lag in these indicators. Given the lifting of public health measures, increased mobility, social gatherings and the return to school following March Break, we can expect to continue to see evidence of increased transmission in the community. The Ontario Science Table recently projected that while hospitalizations will likely increase this spring, the increase will be less than we experienced in January. The Table stated that the extent of the increase will depend upon the number of close contacts (especially indoors without masking), vaccination status and the spread of the more transmissible BA.2 subvariant.

Ottawa Public Health will continue to closely monitor key COVID-19 indicators and will work with Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Kieran Moore to assess and discuss potential options for Ottawa if key indicators shift in a concerning way. Ottawa Public Health will continue to keep the public informed as public health measures are lifted and as we closely monitor this step in our pandemic response.

Through our individual actions and behaviours to follow public health measures, including vaccination, we have prevented serious illness, hospitalization and deaths from COVID-19 in our community. I thank the residents of Ottawa for their contribution to mitigating the spread and the impacts of this virus in our community.

Over the last two years, Ottawa residents have learned skills and adopted new tools to prevent transmission. These tools remain in our individual control. We recently launched a new webpage that provides more information about reducing risk for individuals and their families as the pandemic evolves. Please visit our website regularly for more information and updates.

Masks

On March 21, the Province removed mask requirements in many settings.

After almost two years of mask mandates, we understand why there may be some confusion about where masks continue to be required.

Provincial regulations state that masks must still be worn in the following settings:

  • Public transit
  • Long-term care and retirement homes
  • Health-care settings including hospitals and public health clinics
  • Congregate care settings
  • Shelters
  • Correctional and detention centres.

In addition, masks are required in all public settings for those:

  • Who have been a close contact of someone who has tested positive for COVID-19
  • Who return from international travel (see below).

While no longer required, considering that the level of COVID-19 in our community appears to be increasing, Ottawa Public Health continues to strongly recommend mask use for people at risk for severe illness, including their family and close contacts, and for everyone to consider masking in indoor settings when physical distancing may be difficult.

Please be kind and respectful of others’ choices, and please remember that wearing a mask is not just about protecting you, but also protecting those around you.

Please visit our masking page for more information and to help you make informed decisions about mask use in the current environment.

Federal requirements for returning international travellers

Following March Break or other reasons for travel, many individuals and families may be returning to Canada amidst new provincial COVID-19 policies. If you are returning from international travel, please visit the Government of Canada website for the steps you need to take. These requirements by the federal government supersede provincial or local policies including testing and mask use.

Under current federal travel requirements, upon return from international travel, individuals that are exempt from quarantine must wear a mask at all times when in public spaces (including schools and child care) for their first 14 days in Canada.

Federal travel guidelines may change. Please check the PHAC/CBSA website for current federal information and direct any questions to the federal COVID-19 information line at 1-833-784-4391 or phac.covid19.aspc@canada.ca.

Vaccines

To date, 88 per cent of Ottawa residents have received at least one dose of vaccine and 84 per cent have received two doses. We are incredibly proud of the progress Ottawa residents have made. Vaccination continues to be crucial, especially as public health measures are lifted. For those who are eligible, a third dose provides a higher level of protection than two doses. People aged 50 and older or those who have underlying medical conditions are at greatest risk of severe illness and we urge those who have not yet received their third dose to do so as soon as possible. Being up to date with your COVID-19 immunizations is the single most important step to protect yourself against hospitalization or death.

Using a community-centred and informed approach, OPH continues to work in collaboration with community members and partners to better understand how to address barriers to getting vaccinated directly in neighbourhoods where uptake may be lower. We work to reduce barriers to vaccination by offering education opportunities, community clinics, neighbourhood hub clinics, after school clinics, mobile and pop-up clinics which all offer drop-in options to make vaccination as easy, convenient and accessible as possible. Visit our website to learn more about vaccine clinic options.

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We recognize that this may be a challenging time of transition as things shift from being required to recommended or encouraged. Please continue to be kind to yourselves and each other as we continue to navigate this pandemic. We will get through this together and will be with you every step of the way.

March 17, 2022 - Special statement, Dr. Brent Moloughney, Deputy Medical Officer of Health

As announced by the Province last week, next Monday, March 21, masking requirements in most settings will be removed – including in schools and child-care settings – except for public transit, and health care and congregate settings such as long-term care homes.

This does not mean that the pandemic is over, it means we continue being mindful of the virus’ presence in our day-to-day lives and assess risk to limit transmission and keep each other safe.

We understand that many people may feel anxious or uncertain about the extent of the changes that have been announced. Let’s encourage respect for each other and the decisions that individuals and families make.

As restrictions are removed, we anticipate seeing an increase in COVID-19 transmission as there are more opportunities for interaction. The latest Ottawa monitoring indicators available show that the number of new outbreaks and hospitalizations are stable. However, wastewater levels and the positivity rate of those being tested have been increasing, likely indicating an increase in transmission. We are watching all these indicators closely and informing the office of the Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health of the trends we are seeing in Ottawa. Should COVID-19 indicators start trending upward in a concerning way, Ottawa Public Health will continue working with Dr. Kieran Moore’s office to assess options which could be implemented in Ottawa if necessary. Ottawa data will continue to be updated on the Ottawa Public Health COVID-19 dashboard and we continue to monitor COVID-19 indicators closely.

Throughout this transition and as we continue learning to live with and manage COVID-19, it is more important than ever for residents to get vaccinated with all the doses for which they are eligible. Vaccinations are our best protection against severe illness. Among adults, a third dose provides a higher level of protection than two doses. People aged 50 and older, or those who have underlying medical conditions are at greatest risk of severe illness and we urge those who have not yet received their third dose to do so as soon as possible. Being up to date with one’s COVID-19 immunizations is the single most important step to protect against hospitalization or death.

Only about half of Ottawa residents aged 18 to 49 have received their third vaccine dose. Getting all vaccine doses available to you offers the best protection against symptomatic infection, in addition to preventing severe outcomes. You can get your vaccine at an Ottawa Public Health clinic or participating pharmacy

For those who suspect they may have COVID-19, care clinics in Ottawa continue to provide assessments, testing if eligible, and timely access to COVID-19 treatment. For more information on eligibility, treatment and how to access testing please visit OttawaPublicHealth.ca/COVIDTesting.

Ottawa Public Health continues to strongly recommend mask use for people at risk for severe illness and for everyone to consider masking in indoor settings when physical distancing may be difficult. Many residents remain at higher risk for severe illness and continuing to wear your mask is a simple and effective layer of protection that helps protect others. It is also important to increase ventilation in indoor spaces whenever possible. With spring and warmer weather on the horizon, it will become easier to spend more time outdoors with friends and family, which gives another layer of protection. Ottawa Public Health has launched a new webpage, OttawaPublicHealth.ca/RiskReduction, to help you and your family assess your risk and choose the best layers of protection.

For children returning to school after March break, school will look and feel different, with some children continuing to wear their masks and others not. I encourage families to have conversations with each other about what to expect, to assess risk for serious illness within their families and close contacts, and to make the best choice to protect themselves.

Last week, Ottawa Public Health issued a statement to parents through our local school board partners. We encourage school boards to ensure their schools are mask-friendly places that enable those who choose to wear a mask to do so, including continuing to provide mask breaks for those staff and students during the school day. As has been the case throughout the pandemic, Ottawa Public Health stands ready to continue supporting school boards with resources to help parents with this transition. Check the supporting schools’ webpage for more information.

This period of transition of easing of measures and learning to live with and manage COVID-19 may be difficult for many. The change and uncertainty of the pandemic can be difficult to cope with. Support is available. Ottawa residents and families can access community mental health resources.

Please continue to practise kindness and patience with yourself and each other. As we enter the spring season, assess risk, and keep using the layers of protection that we know work – vaccinations, staying home when sick, mask-use indoors and in crowded spaces, physical distance and improving indoor air quality where possible.

March 9, 2022 – Special statement from Dr. Vera Etches

Hello. Bonjour. Kwey.

Today, the Province announced the next steps to ease public health measures in Ontario, which includes upcoming changes to mask requirements in public spaces and schools, expanded eligiblity for testing in high-risk settings, and changes to the isolation guidance.   I recognize that many of us may need time to adjust to these upcoming changes and it is important to have conversations and take it slow. I encourage parents, guardians, and caregivers to continue with the layers of protection that make them feel at ease and which can continue to decrease COVID-19 transmission, including masking. It is important to show respect for others and their individual choices, based on their own assessment of their risk – or the risk to a loved one.

I am encouraged to see that masking in some settings – including transit, healthcare settings, long-term care homes and congregate settings – will remain in place for some time. As I have indicated previously, it is important that we approach each step towards fewer measures with caution and allow enough time between each step to monitor how the easing of public health measures is impacting our COVID-19 monitoring indicators.

Locally, we are closely watching our monitoring indicators. We’ve seen a gradual decrease in our COVID-19 wastewater levels, which have been stabilizing from mid-February, our hospitalizations due to COVID-19 have dropped and, are stable, as are COVID-19 outbreaks. While these trends are encouraging, we have also observed an increase in the percent positivity rate, which may be affected by low levels of testing. We will continue to monitor and report on these and other indicators. It is important to know that while monitoring indicators are predominantly improving, COVID-19 is still present in our community at a relatively high level. There is still risk of exposure, transmission, and infection. For some individuals and their families, the risk of complications and severe outcomes from COVID-19 is greater than others.

As public health measures continue to be lifted, it will become increasingly important for individuals to assess their own level of risk, and the risk of those they live  and interact with. We are shifting to a space where individuals and their families must choose how to, rather than be mandated, to best protect themselves. This will include the decision to wear a mask in indoor or shared spaces. 

Some people who are  at higher risk include older adults, as well as those with certain medical conditions. When assessing risk, we look to the “3 C’s”: crowded spaces, close contact (with close conversation), and confined and enclosed spaces with poor ventilation. Ways to reduce risk of exposure and infection include monitoring for symptoms, staying home when sick, being vaccinated, masking, meeting outdoors, limiting the size of gatherings, and improving ventilation.  To support you in assessing risk and making the best decision for you and your family, Ottawa Public Health has launched a new webpage: OttawaPublicHealth.ca/RiskReduction. This new webpage provides important information to help you and your family assess your level of risk of severe outcomes and choose your layers of protection accordingly. For those who may suspect they have COVID-19, care clinics in Ottawa continue to provide assessment, testing if eligible, and timely access to COVID-19 treatment - for more information on treatment and how to access testing please visit: OttawaPublicHealth.ca/COVIDTesting.

While Ottawa is seeing good vaccine coverage rates, many residents still have not received their third dose. More than ever, it is crucial that residents, especially those over the age of 50, get vaccinated with three doses of a COVID-19 vaccine to maximize their protection against serious illness, complications and death from COVID-19. Ensuring our community maintains adequate levels of immunity is also crucial to maintaining health care system and hospital capacity.

We have said previously that we must learn to live with COVID-19 in the community. This does not mean that the pandemic is over, it means being mindful of the virus’ presence in our day-to-day lives. Ottawa Public Health will continue to closely monitor COVID-19 indicators and we will continue working with community partners to support people at higher risk of serious outcomes from COVID-19.  We are also working with local school boards and child care partners to support them with these changes, understanding that parents and caregivers may have concerns for their child’s safety.

Recognizing that employers and workplaces will be impacted by these changes, I would encourage employers to maintain masking as an occupational health and safety measure as we monitor COVID-19 activity in the community. Like individuals, employers and their employees are encouraged to assess their level of risk and that of their clients and mitigate where possible.

As per the provincial regulations, I am not able to issue Letters of Instruction to implement local measures. Further, I cannot require masking in schools or workplaces. Ottawa Public Health and I will continue working with Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Kieran Moore, to assess options should key indicators, including hospitalizations, start trending upward in a concerning way. We can continue to make progress if we keep doing what we know has protected our community from COVID-19.

While this feels like a time of change, we can continue doing things that will keep our loved ones protected. We can keep wearing our masks, we can keep our distance when needed, we will stay home if we’re sick and we can get our third doses of vaccine.

Our community has been through a lot over the past two years, and the first months of 2022 have proven challenging. You may find yourself feeling more affected by the events that happen around you, more than you used to be. You may be experiencing feelings of uncertainty and worry as public health measures are lifted – this is understandable, and normal. You and your family have likely been through a lot.

As we move forward, be sure to check in on one another. Text or call someone, offer some kind words and see if they need anything. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, be sure to reach out to friends and family. Community resources are also available to support with mental health during this time, learn more by visiting OttawaPublicHealth.ca/COVIDMentalHealth.

It is going to take time for us to get used to what lies ahead – assessing our risks and choosing our layers of protection accordingly. It is important that we respect and support each other during this time of change and transition. What may be lower risk for one, is a higher risk for another. Kindness and understanding will get us through this next chapter.

Thank you. Merci. Meegwetch.

March 2, 2022 - Dr. Vera Etches, special statement

On Monday, the Board of Health held its second meeting of the year. I provided a verbal update, which you can watch in full on YouTube and read a high-level recap below.  

The pandemic has been a common stressor for all of us impacting our well-being and resiliency. After two years of living with COVID-19, many of us have various losses to grieve – the loss of loved ones, employment, social celebrations of important milestones, educational achievements. The losses are unique, and some have been harder hit than others. Recognizing this grief, I call on Ottawa residents to be compassionate and kind to one another as we make the transition to shifting public health measures, and we turn to recovering our well-being. 

Some of us may need additional supports at this time, including those impacted by the war in Ukraine and other conflicts and people recovering from traumatic experiences with the unlawful protests and trucks in their neighbourhoods. Ottawa Public Health will continue working with the community and with partners to address concerns raised by people most affected, while we share information and resources on how to address harms caused by crises and emergencies that affect people across the city. 

Update on local COVID-19 situation 

The COVID-19 measures that Ottawa Public Health monitors have been showing a steady decline since early January; however, we are seeing that decline begin to level off. As we navigate the changes in provincial guidance, a shift to individual risk assessment and risk mitigation is key. This means – especially if you or someone you live with is at risk for severe COVID-19 illness if infected – that you can still decrease the chances of infection by being vaccinated with a booster dose, wearing a mask in indoor spaces, practicing physical distancing and being careful about your number of close contacts, and time in crowds and in closed spaces. Please visit the Ottawa Public Health COVID-19 vaccination dashboard for more information about vaccinations in Ottawa. 

Lifting of provincial measures, proof of vaccination

As of yesterday, proof of COVID-19 vaccination is no longer required for all settings, though businesses and other settings may choose to continue to require proof of vaccination.  

Getting a third dose of a COVID-19 vaccine provides the best protection against hospitalization and death. At this stage in the pandemic, two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine does not provide sufficient protection and we strongly recommend booster doses for everyone eligible. 

Ottawa Public Health will continue to closely monitor key indicators, such as how our hospitals are managing severe COVID-19 illness and new variants, and we will continue working with community partners to support people at higher risk of serious COVID-19 illness. On February 25, the Province issued updated regulations that means local medical officers of health no longer have the ability to issue letters of instruction under the Reopening Ontario Act with regard to proof of vaccination requirements. At this time Ottawa Public Health is not planning to recommend further public health measures for Ottawa as provincial restrictions are lifted. I will continue working with Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Kieran Moore to assess options should key indicators, including hospitalizations, start trending upward in a concerning way. 

Public Health COVID-19 recovery planning

Ottawa Public Health continues to advance recovery planning for the organization to return to more of its mandate. While the plan is to scale back our COVID-19 response step-by-step, we must remain flexible and be ready to respond to pressures created by the virus when needed.  

Ottawa Public Health is now in Step 2 of 5 of its recovery plan roadmap and is working to gather input from diverse groups to inform recovery planning and to identify community and population health needs now and into the future.  

As part of the recovery planning, Ottawa Public Health is also examining how to support the community to recover. Many Ottawa residents will need time, space and supports to meaningfully recover. The pandemic has disproportionately affected Ottawa residents who faced health inequalities prior to the pandemic.  

Community recovery is an opportunity for economic, social and health stakeholders - in collaboration with partners, communities and individuals - to come together to assess how the complexity of community needs have changed, and to shape new or adapted services together. 

With respect to economic recovery, we acknowledge and understand that public health measures and provincial restrictions have affected individuals and the business community in many ways. Workplaces have had to adapt to various work models – with some employees working on-site, some working from home and planning for an eventual return to work in-person, while others have had to close due to restrictions. Our team has developed the Working Towards Recovery: Workplace Health and Wellness Guide to help support the mental health and wellness of employers and employees in the workplace. 

Lastly, I want to emphasize that social connections and engagement in workplaces – in person - are an important part of recovery from the pandemic. This means reconnecting with friends and family, returning to in-person meetings and supporting local businesses, keeping in mind we need to do our own individual risk assessment and risk mitigation. People of all ages have been affected by social isolation and we can each help re-establish health-promoting connections. Again, let’s continue to lead with compassion and kindness towards each other as we have done time and again with patience and perseverance throughout the pandemic.

February 14, 2022 – Special statement by Dr. Vera Etches

Today the province announced the next steps in its reopening plan to cautiously and gradually ease public health measures starting this Thursday. Here in Ottawa, monitoring indicators tell us that the level of Omicron is continuing to decline. We have seen signs of a significant decrease in COVID-19 activity, including a decline in wastewater signals, test positivity rates and new hospitalizations and outbreaks in hospitals, long-term care and retirement homes.

Ottawa Public Health continues to monitor the local situation and is supporting residents to assess and reduce their level of risk of exposure to COVID-19 as the province transitions towards greater opportunities for close contact in closed spaces where masks are not worn and in larger crowds. We continue to urge caution especially for those at higher risk of severe illness due to COVID-19 and we continue to support people in higher-risk settings.

Our strongest protection remains vaccination. There are still tens of thousands of older adults who are not yet maximally protected against their higher risk of hospitalization and severe illness by having a booster dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Our community-based work continues to reach out to people and neighbourhoods where vaccination protection is lower.

Please visit OttawaPublicHealth.ca for more information on vaccines.

February 14, 2022 – Special joint statement from Dr. Vera Etches and Donna Gray

Hello. Bonjour. Kwey.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been incredibly challenging on everyone over the last two years – physically, mentally and emotionally. And now, residents are experiencing additional challenges due to the ongoing demonstrations in the downtown core and other areas of the city.

Environmental pollution, noise, racism and safety concerns have negatively impacted people’s health and created fear and anxiety in our community far beyond those physically affected. Many residents have felt the need to limit their daily activities leading to further isolation and mental health challenges especially for racialized groups, vulnerable youth, our 2SLGBTQ+ community, people with disabilities, people experiencing homelessness, older adults and other groups.

Ottawa Public Health is working with the City’s Emergency Operations Centre to monitor and to attempt to address the health impacts the demonstrations have been having on residents. We are actively looking at ways to increase messaging and supports to reach people in Ottawa who are suffering. The Human Needs Task Force continues to assess local needs and enhance the City’s response in collaboration with community partners to help the most at-risk people in our community access food, housing, social services and employment support.

Residents in need can call 2-1-1 for information on government and local community-based health and social services, including emergency financial assistance and food supports.

Additionally, in collaboration with partners, Ottawa Public Health will continue to raise awareness of how to access mental health and substance use health resources and services and provide information to support their mental health and resilience during this time of crisis.

We understand people are feeling anxious, frustrated, isolated, and tired and want this demonstration to end as soon as possible.   We may feel helpless not knowing what we should do.

It's important to talk about how you are feeling in stressful times. Reach out to friends, family and neighbours. There are resources available, including:

  • Distress Centre of Ottawa and Region support line 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, at 613-238-3311, in French there is Tel-Aide Outaouais - 613-741-6433
  • Counselling Connect which offers free counselling sessions over the phone or video call the same day or the next day.
  • The Walk-In Counselling Clinic (reachable by phone at 613-755-2277) offers free counselling without an appointment. Sessions are offered in French, English, Arabic, Spanish, Somali, Cantonese, and Mandarin by phone or video call.
  • AccessMHA help residents over the age 16 years connect to mental health and substance use health services.
  • 1Call 1Click help connect children, youth and their families (from birth to 21 years of age) to mental health and addiction services and resources.

We want to thank the many health and social services partners and providers across Ottawa who have not wavered in providing critical services to residents throughout these events. This is an incredibly challenging time and we are grateful for the efforts so many are making to support and encourage each other. 

Thank you. Merci. Meegwetch.

Dr. Vera Etches                                               Donna Gray
Medical Officer of Health                              General Manager, Community and Social Services

January 12, 2022 – Special statement from Dr. Vera Etches

Hello. Bonjour. Kwey.

I appreciate the mixed reaction to the announcement by the Province that in-person learning will resume on Monday, January 17.  In-person learning is welcome news for many parents and caregivers, but I can understand that others may be concerned. Parents have many questions. OPH is working closely with the local school boards and partners in child care and as more information is confirmed by the provincial government, we will work with our partners to update families and child care providers.

Each family can and should make individual assessments on what works best for them when it comes to sending children back to in-person learning.

What everyone can continue to do to decrease the risk of COVID-19 transmission in schools and child care is:  

  • get vaccinated and
  • stay home when sick

Ottawa Public Health and partners continue to focus on increasing vaccination rates among students, children and school staff. There are many available vaccine appointments for people who have not yet been able to receive their vaccine. Please book your child’s first or second dose as soon as they are eligible. And for parents, if you haven’t done so already, it’s not too late to book your vaccine appointments as well.  We will be returning to offer school-based immunization clinics  for people of all ages facing more barriers to vaccination and people will be notified of these opportunities in their neighbourhoods.

For children aged five to 11, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommends an eight-week interval between first and second doses, as evidence shows this schedule produces a stronger and longer-lasting immune response. However, a shorter interval of no less than 21-days has been shown to be safe and effective. Parents who wish to book their child at a shorter interval have the option to do so by calling the provincial booking line at 1-833-943-3900 or dropping into a community clinic. People will be given a second dose at a shorter interval in our clinics with informed consent.

For people who may find it easier to drop-in for a vaccine, Ottawa Public Health is expanding drop-in capacity at community COVID-19 vaccination clinics to everyone eligible – whether for first, second or booster doses. We will provide daily updates on specific clinic availability on our social media platforms to show where wait times are likely to be the shortest. To reduce the likelihood of line-ups, booking an appointment is still encouraged.

In addition to vaccination, we know that schools and child care have layers of protection that slow transmission compared to other settings. These layers include daily screening, wearing a well-fitted mask, hand washing, distancing, cohorting and increased ventilation. Using the online screening tool each day before entering a school or child care environment is one of the most important ways to keep COVID-19 out of schools and child care settings. The provincial screening tool for COVID-19 like symptoms has been updated, so I encourage people to check it out this week before heading back to school or attending child care.

Ottawa Public Health will be adapting to the new provincial guidance for schools and child care. The province announced today that Rapid Antigen Tests will be available for schools and in child care settings. We will also follow the provincial guidance to make PCR home test kits available in schools for symptomatic elementary/secondary students and education staff who become symptomatic while at school.

We will also continue to promote actions and services that can support the mental health and well-being of children, such as on our Parenting in Ottawa website and on Facebook.  Prioritizing in-person learning means that higher-risk extra-curricular activities should still be limited and emphasis should be placed on outdoor activities for children and youth with a lower number of social contacts.

***

As Mayor Watson mentioned, Ottawa residents of all ages continue to make significant progress getting COVID-19 booster doses, so I would like to thank you for that. I strongly recommend all residents who are eligible for a third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine receive one as soon as possible. There is increasing evidence that immunity can wane over time and a third dose provides greater protection against severe illness and complications from COVID-19. Evidence is clear that the rates of hospitalization due to Omicron infection are significantly higher in unvaccinated than in vaccinated populations.

I understand there is some hesitancy from individuals who are concerned about receiving a different brand of vaccine for their third dose, such as getting a Moderna booster shot after a double dose of Pfizer or vice versa. I want to remind residents that both Pfizer and Moderna are mRNA vaccines and it is safe and effective to receive a different brand for your booster.

Another question we are hearing is whether individuals who have recently tested positive for COVID-19 still need a booster, or if they should wait. Let me be clear: people who have previously tested positive for or who suspect they contracted COVID-19 should still be vaccinated with a third dose once they have recovered and have completed their isolation and are feeling well. There is currently no evidence that suggests COVID-19 infection provides as much or better protection than a vaccine.

Again, there is capacity for first, second and third doses for those who are eligible, so please book your appointment or drop-in to a clinic today.

***

I would like to speak to something many of you – myself included – have been thinking about for several months now: How much longer will this pandemic last? When will these restrictions be lifted? What’s next?

The Omicron variant is a game changer. Its high transmissibility means we must learn to adapt. As with Influenza viruses we need to protect the most vulnerable populations, such as older people in congregate settings, by vaccinating and keeping isolated when we are sick. People need ongoing supports for sick leave.

We know Omicron is spreading very quickly in the community, increasing the likelihood that most people may eventually be exposed to it. The vast majority will be able to weather the illness at home. People can prepare for this by making sure they have basic supplies and pain relief medication on hand. Seek healthcare assessment for chest pain, difficulty breathing, confusion or rapidly worsening symptoms.

Many who are unvaccinated and contract COVID-19, and even some vaccinated individuals may need hospital care to address the impacts of related illness. The health care system cannot withstand the pressure of everyone acquiring COVID-19 at the same time. The hospitals in Ottawa will maintain access to critical care. Right now, they are significantly changing how they operate to care for people with COVID and others.

Omicron cannot be stopped altogether. But we can work to blunt the peak and slow transmission so that hospitals can maintain capacity to deliver care.

This is an incredibly challenging time, and I am thankful for the efforts so many are making to support and encourage each other. 

Thank you. Merci. Meegwetch.

January 4, 2022 – Special statement from Dr. Vera Etches

Hello. Bonjour. Kwey.

Based on what the Province presented yesterday, we know that we are facing a significant challenge with Omicron rising exponentially and the number of new people testing positive expected in the days and weeks ahead. We expect this will have a large impact on the workforce across the health care sector, along with access to hospital beds and hospital-based services.

As Premier Ford and Dr. Moore said yesterday, almost everyone now will know someone who is or has been affected by COVID-19. We are bracing for the impact. We know that at this point transmission of the Omicron variant cannot be completely stopped. I agree with the provincial decision to introduce additional public health measures in the community with the goal to slow the transmission of the Omicron variant and lower the peak of the hospitalizations to what will be manageable.

The provincial decision to delay in-person learning in schools must have been very difficult to make. We know that schools should be the last places to close for the health and well-being of children and youth. Now that the decision has been made to move to virtual learning for the next couple of weeks, we will work with school boards to ensure that children who may need more support can connect with the resources they and their families may need in the weeks ahead.

We know there will be harm from closing schools. For some children and youth, school is a place of respite, where they can access support, food, and safety. Last year, the number of infants presenting with head injuries and/or multiple fractures more than doubled. For families who face domestic violence, school is a protective factor and a place where they receive essential support. We’ve seen from previous lockdowns that parents and caregivers report high levels of stress when schools are closed, restrictions are in place and their ability to work is affected. Also, during previous periods when schools were closed for in-person learning, we saw more mental health challenges and increased hospitalizations with diagnoses such depression, anxiety and eating disorders.

Children and youth, and their families, face a tough time ahead. This will be a difficult period to get through. It may be a few weeks to a month and right now, so we need to do everything we can to take care of each other.  It’s more important than ever to reach out to friends, family and neighbours and offer support to give each other a break from what will be a challenging time.

I will continue to advocate for schools to reopen as soon as possible for the health of children and youth. Through this period, parents will need help with childcare and remote learning, and we also need to weigh the risks of mixing with other children from other households outside of school. We know what’s most important to prevent further transmission – screen for symptoms daily, stay home when you’re sick and don’t gather indoors with people outside your household.

There are supports in the community to help you or someone you know.

  • If you’re in crisis, please contact the Mental Health Crisis Line (24/7) at 613-722-6914.
  • 1call1click.ca is a simple way for children, youth, and families to access the right mental health and addiction care, at the right time.
  • The Distress Centre Ottawa (24/7) in also available 24/7 at 613-238-3311
  • Ottawa Public Health also provides a comprehensive list of local COVID-19 mental health resources  at OttawaPublicHealth.ca/COVIDMentalHealth
  • Unsafe at Home Ottawa is a secure text and online chat service for women who may be living through increased violence and abuse at home during the pandemic. Their text and online chat services are available 7 days a week from 8:30am to midnight, by text  at 613-704-5535 or chat online via their website: UnsafeAtHomeOttawa.ca.

Unlike a year ago when we lived through similar public health restrictions, we have the protection of vaccinations now. We are continuing to work hard to help older adults get their booster doses and we’re working to prioritize teachers and education workers to get their booster doses too. We also want to give children and youth access to their first doses as soon as possible and their second doses will start to be given by the end of January.

We are entering in a new year. I know that we will take care of each other as we face these challenging times together. We are a strong community that supports each other.

Thank you. Merci. Meegwetch.

January 2, 2022 - Special statement from Dr. Vera Etches

Dear Ottawa students, parents, guardians, and education staff,

I am writing to you today to acknowledge the many questions and concerns about the return to school planned for many next week. While I am expecting further guidance from the province about school reopening and measures to limit transmission in the community, I am currently in support of schools returning. I have evaluated the evidence and recommendations from my healthcare colleagues that being in school is what is best for children, youth, families and the health of our community overall.

The level of the COVID-19 Omicron variant in our community is very high, so the chances that students and education staff will encounter COVID-19 outside of school is increased. The information we have from throughout the pandemic is that schools being open is not a key reason for making the pandemic spread worse. In Ottawa, in December, with the Omicron variant circulating, the data showed that the COVID-19 rates grew in the community much faster than in the school population. Many of the introductions of COVID-19 into schools were related to transmission from social and sports activities outside of school. This is why I have been recommending that residents limit their close contacts and high-risk activities and I am discussing with the province the urgent need to pause other activities to keep schools the priority. If schools do not re-open, there is the potential that this could result in more indoor gatherings of children and more community transmission as parents and caregivers may need to rely on others to watch their children for work or for their own mental health, which we saw with previous COVID-19 waves.

Keeping COVID-19 out of schools by staying home when we are sick is also very important.  With so much COVID-19 in our community and reduced access to testing, we need to treat possible COVID symptoms as if they are from a COVID-19 infection. New provincial guidance is shifting us to new practices in isolation when we have COVID-19-like symptoms, regardless of access to a rapid antigen test or PCR test. I know some people need help to self-isolate, and I would encourage people to reach out for support from the city by calling 3-1-1 if needed.

When COVID-19 is present in a school, there are more layers of protection that slow transmission compared to in other settings. Many people are asking about using N95 masks in children and educators. The best masks for children and educators are well-fitted masks that they can wear comfortably throughout the day, masks that have three layers. We have learned that even children in kindergarten are adapting to keeping their masks on to block the virus, which is what I recommend.  

While overall schools are not likely to be riskier for children than the contacts they have in the community, we know there would be harms from closing schools. Children and youth have fallen behind in social and educational development. They have more mental health challenges – depression, anxiety, eating disorders, hospitalizations included. Parents and guardians also report high levels of stress when schools are closed and their ability to work is affected. Keeping schools open consistently remains a key pandemic goal for the health of children and youth. School is an essential service. Additionally, at this time of more essential workers being off sick, having to stay home to look after children would also further disrupt critical services, including those who provide health care services.

Some have suggested keeping schools closed until all children and youth are fully immunized. Unfortunately, with an 8-week interval between doses and 61% of children 5-11 immunized with one dose at this time, that timeline would mean too much missed school that causes known harms. That said, I am working with the City of Ottawa’s Emergency Operations Centre to ensure there is ongoing access for children and youth to receive first and second doses. As well, the team is working to create a way to focus on immunizing childcare and education staff with booster doses while continuing to focus on increasing rates of vaccine coverage with booster doses in older adults. Older adults are most likely to suffer severe infections and potential death, compared to very low rates of hospitalization in children. The work to rapidly ramp up capacity to immunize older adults has been about saving lives and preventing hospitals from being overwhelmed.

There are many things in our control and actions we can take 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.  When everyone in a household that is eligible for a vaccine is vaccinated that helps to protect the youngest children who are not.  Pausing indoor gatherings and activities with people outside of your household can reduce transmission. Having everyone who lives in the house stay home when someone is sick helps too.  Other tools may become more available later in the new year, such as rapid antigen tests, but taking these protective and preventive actions does not depend on the availability of tests now. We know that COVID transmission is widespread in our community. If you have symptoms, you need to act as if you have COVID. The actions (such as isolation, waiting for symptoms to resolve, and limiting gatherings) are what will slow the spread, not the testing.

I know everyone, including myself, wants the best for children, youth, parents, guardians and education staff. I am so impressed at how the school community has adapted to the challenges of the pandemic. I am thankful for their ongoing commitment to protecting each other. At the population level, my current recommendation is that children and youth deserve the health benefits of schools being open next week. Schools provide students with essential supports, for learning and social development. This is not a decision I take lightly. It is supported by our child healthcare partners across the province (see: CHEO News Release- Children’s Health Coalition agree schools must be prioritized for kids’ overall health.)

I will continue to monitor the situation and work with the province to decrease COVID-19 transmission in the community and in schools.  The goals with the Omicron surge are to keep a focus on minimizing severe outcomes and strain on the healthcare system, and on maintaining essential services. I will continue to listen to the questions and concerns that people raise and work to see us through this wave. Concerns for the whole population’s health, and all dimensions of health – related to infection and to mental health, continue to be our priority. 

Yours,

Vera

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