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.

December 30, 2020 – Special statement from Dr. Vera Etches

Kwey. Bonjour. Hello.

We are getting ready to say goodbye to what has been a difficult and unpredictable year. As 2020 is drawing to a close, we look forward in hope to a new year that brings the promise of vaccines to help protect us and our loved ones from the COVID-19.

However, we are not there yet.

There are a number of signals that transmission of COVID-19 has been increasing in Ottawa. Our weekly case counts have increased, the percentage of tests coming back positive has jumped to 2.5 per cent and the COVID-19 signal in our city's wastewater is climbing more steeply again. These are all signs that more of us could pass on the virus when in close contact with others. While hospitalizations remain stable, there is often a delay from when case counts change to when hospitalizations increase.  

We know that in the days to come, we may see increases in people testing positive as a result of transmission from holiday gatherings. Earlier this week, a case of the COVID-19 UK variant was confirmed in an individual in Ottawa with recent travel from the UK. We must remain vigilant to not allow transmission of the virus as we enter the new year.

How do we more safely get through the colder days and weeks ahead? We live in a beautiful winter city. Please continue to get outside, keep active and soak up some much-needed sunshine.  This is important to our overall wellbeing and mental health.

Starting today, to help reduce the spread of COVID-19, masks are now required at all public outdoor rinks in Ottawa. Skaters who are not from the same household must keep two metres apart on and off the ice. Masks are not mandatory while actively skating but are highly recommended. This applies to the City of Ottawa’s four refrigerated rinks where significant numbers of skaters are a concern: the Rink of Dreams at City Hall, Lansdowne Park skating court, Ben Franklin Place rink and the Jim Tubman Chevrolet Rink. This also applies to the approximately 200 community rinks across the city which will soon be operating.

During the shutdown, many of the activities we would normally turn to for comfort and enjoyment like sharing a meal at a restaurant, hitting the gym, visiting a museum, or catching a movie in theatres, need to wait for a while. However, you can still continue to enjoy virtual dates with friends and family, winter activities outdoors, and ordering in a treat from your favourite restaurant. In the days to come, please continue to follow public health measures that prevent COVID transmission:  wear a mask, limit close contact to those you live with, stay home when sick, wash your hands and limit travel to essential purposes only.

Ottawa Public Health recommends limiting interprovincial travel to essential purposes only, such as for work or caring for loved ones. Information for residents about these recommendations during the provincial shutdown is available on OPH’s website. OPH also recommends doing outdoor physical activities within the city of Ottawa.

If you or someone in your family has travelled, is ill or awaiting a COVID-19 test, please follow self-isolation protocols to protect others. And if you have any symptoms of COVID-19, we recommend that you seek testing right away. Several testing options are available throughout the city and during and after the holiday.

Finally, the COVID vaccine rollout continues in Ottawa to long term care and retirement home workers and essential caregivers in these settings, as well as select healthcare workers this week, with daily vaccination clinics occurring at The Ottawa Hospital where the vaccine is currently received.

Both vaccines are safe and effective and have been tested in large clinical trials and approved by Health Canada. Please visit our website at OttawaPublicHealth.ca/COVID19Vaccine for the latest information and resources. We will continue to work and engage with you to ensure you have the information you need to make the most informed decisions to protect you, your loved ones and the community.

For New Year’s Eve, we ask that you celebrate only with the people you already live with (or with one other household if you live alone) and reach out in a virtual way to others to wish them the best for the year to come. We all look forward in hope to a new year - please continue to keep safe and take care of one another.

Thank you. Merci. Meegwetch.

December 22, 2020 – Special statement from Dr. Vera Etches

Hello. Bonjour. Kwey.

Since the start of Ottawa’s first stage of the vaccine rollout last Tuesday, nearly 1,500 long-term care workers received the Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. This vaccine will help ensure the safety of our workers, their families and residents in their care. Clinics continue to run at the Ottawa Hospital until Wednesday this week and are now open to all long-term care and retirement home workers and registered essential caregivers in long-term care homes with approximately 800 spots still available.

COVID-19 has had a disproportionate effect on people working in long-term care and retirement homes. I encourage all long-term care and retirement home staff to contact their employer for information on how to book an appointment to receive the vaccine now. Registered essential caregivers can contact their respective long-term care homes for information on how to book an appointment. While the Ministry and OPH both highly encourage vaccination against COVID-19, it is important to note that vaccination is voluntary.

The vaccine is safe and effective. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has been tested in large clinical trials to ensure it has met safety standards and has been licensed and approved for use by Health Canada. The vaccine does not contain the virus and will not give you COVID-19.

OPH has launched a COVID-19 Vaccine page at OttawaPublicHealth.ca/COVID19Vaccine with information on the Ottawa context, how the vaccine works as well as precautions and considerations for residents to be aware of. We also have a special page dedicated to long-term care and retirement home workers that includes frequently asked questions and an informative video  featuring one of our Associate Medical Officers of Health, Dr. Trevor Arnason.

I also want to address misinformation that may be spreading about the vaccine. I know people are concerned and have many questions. I urge everyone to use and share information from trusted, reliable sources like official public health and government agencies. Please visit our website for the latest information and resources. We will continue to work and engage with you to ensure you have the information you need to make the most informed decisions to protect you, your loved ones and the community.

As the Province continues to roll out its phased vaccination program and as we continue into the holiday season, it remains critically important that all Ottawans, even those getting vaccinated, continue following public health advice to protect our community and to slow the spread of COVID-19. The light at the end of the tunnel is slowly getting brighter, but for now we must maintain the basic public health principles of washing our hands, staying home when sick, staying two metres apart from others and wearing a mask.

Please do not gather with others outside your household over the holidays. The safest way we can celebrate this year is only with those you already live with. If you live alone, you can join one other household, but only one.

I know it will be difficult to not see our loved ones in person this holiday season. But it is my hope that we won’t have to make these sacrifices again next year if we keep forging ahead now.

Remember: it’s okay to not be okay. If you need support, please reach out to a loved one. You can also find mental health resources on our website.

Yesterday we celebrated Winter Solstice, the first day of winter and the shortest day of the year. Each day will get a little bit brighter, one day at a time. And I know that we are all looking forward to a better, brighter 2021.

Be safe, be kind, be well and I wish everyone a safe and happy holiday.

Thank you. Merci. Meegwetch.

December 21, 2020 – Special statement from Dr. Vera Etches 

Kwey. Bonjour. Hello.

Over the weekend, I connected with Dr. Williams, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, about the shutdown which was announced earlier this afternoon.

I want to acknowledge the dire situation much of our province is facing and how important the next weeks will be to stem the tide of COVID transmission across Ontario before it leads to unprecedented hospitalizations and cripples our health care system.

In my discussions with Dr. Williams, I highlighted the incredibly hard work and significant sacrifices Ottawa residents and businesses have made over the last several months to keep COVID transmissions down. I also mentioned the important role that schools play in enabling people to work and providing structure in children and youth’s days.

Through that hard work and most recently this fall, we have seen the number of hospitalizations and outbreaks decline in Ottawa. While no longer in decline, the levels of COVID in our community remain stable, and we know even a small increase in the number of close contacts we have can quickly lead to a significant rise in COVID-19 levels here. We know our hospitals in Ottawa are ready and not seeing the worrying trends seen in other parts of the province. We want to see elective surgeries continue and not be cancelled. We also know we are seeing a rise in numbers in neighboring regions and we are all connected.

I am disappointed with the decision by the provincial government to apply a 28-day shutdown on the city of Ottawa and I have asked the provincial government to reconsider a two-week shutdown for Ottawa, one that would be as short as possible in consideration of the evidence of the COVID indicators in our community.

We know that in a shutdown, we lose balance in our mental health and freedoms in our lives. For people living with domestic violence, home is not a haven but a dangerous place. Many business owners in the service industry are facing devastating economic impacts and their livelihoods are at risk. Self-isolation and loneliness are having a severe impact on mental health.

People are suffering and everyone is tired.

Today is the winter solstice, the day of the year with the longest hours of darkness. And today, in Ottawa, we are feeling that darkness. BUT the darkest time comes just before the light and I want you to know that I will continue to keep fighting for the people of Ottawa. I will continue to keep speaking to the province, to make it as clear to make this shutdown as short as possible for the city of Ottawa.

Today, there is hope in our community. Last week, nearly 1,500 long-term care workers received the first Pfizer COVID vaccines in Ottawa. There will be a phased and scheduled vaccine campaign to make the COVID-19 vaccine available to everyone who wants it, and we are in the process of reaching out to all long-term care home and retirement home operators and staff to continue to offer more doses of the vaccine. Staff who work at a long-term care or retirement home in Ottawa are asked to contact their employer today for information about how to book your vaccine appointment.

Ottawa, I am proud of the hard work you have done. I know you are committed and that you care deeply about your community.

In the days ahead, please do not gather with people you do not usually live with.  This Christmas must be different. Stay with people in your household only. If you choose to see family and friends outside your household, physically distance and wear a mask. Do as much as possible outdoors.  Stay home if you are sick and wash your hands regularly.

Caring for your loved ones means doing these things. These are both the simplest things but the hardest, especially THIS Christmas.

We need to keep each other closer than ever before, while being physically apart. Many people are struggling and need you to check in. These are your family, your friends, your neighbours who will struggle with their mental health, who will need food, support, even a friendly hello. No one is alone. Our community is all of us and please connect with them to see how you can bring light to someone’s world.  

Thank you. Merci. Meegwetch. 

COVID-19 Update from Dr. Vera Etches - October 14, 2020

Click here for the presentation. 

June 1, 2020 - Special statement from Dr. Vera Etches

Ethnicity and COVID-19

Some evidence has shown that certain groups may be more impacted by COVID-19 than others; not only by contracting the disease itself, but due to broader health and social impacts of the pandemic. For example, we are seeing that racialized communities have been disproportionately impacted – that they may be more at risk to contracting COVID-19 but also that they have faced prejudice, racism and discrimination, sadly in some cases by verbal and physical assault.

These situations are emotionally challenging. COVID-19 affects us all, but some people are facing incredibly difficult circumstances and hardships. Support, kindness and compassion is what we need now.

Ottawa Public Health is working to collect ethnicity and income data to understand risks of exposure among different groups in Ottawa. We are also working with the Human Needs Task Force and partners such as the Ottawa Local Immigration Partnership to ensure that people have access to services and social supports and to counter effects of racism, poverty and  social and education disparities to promote health and safety for everyone in our community.

OPH is exploring opportunities to collaborate with the City’s Anti-Racism Directorate with Councillor Rawlson King. We are working with partners to develop a campaign to increase awareness of the impacts of racism and discrimination.

June marks the start of National Indigenous History Month, an opportunity to learn about and celebrate Indigenous heritage, diversity and culture while acknowledging and reflecting on the achievements of First Nations, Inuit and Métis people.

OPH is committed to Reconciliation. We work in partnership with First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples and communities to advance Indigenous health equity. Currently we are working with partners to better understand how COVID-19 is affecting Indigenous communities and uncover the true impacts including the health and social effects of closures and physical distancing on First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities.

Take care of yourself, talk to someone you trust, try to unplug from media or choose a specific time of the day to check the news. Reach out to the Distress Center of Ottawa (613-238-3311) if you need someone to talk to or visit OPH’s Mental Health and COVID-19 webpage for additional mental health resources.

Vigilance with reopening

For many, the recent shift in both warmer weather and the reopening of businesses means a shift in our daily activities. We’re outside more, we’re running more of our usual errands and we’re therefore encountering more opportunities to interact with others. While more interactions means increased risk, we can fortunately reduce the risk if we each play our part in preventing the spread of infection.

To date, physical distancing has been a key component of our response to the virus. As we slowly loosen the restrictions that have been in place for the last several weeks, it will be critical that  we continue to stay two metres away from others and, when we can’t, that we wear a cloth mask, especially indoors and on public transit systems. We all have a responsibility to do our part in preventing transmission not only to protect ourselves but also our health care system, and at-risk populations.

Last week we launched the Ottawa COVID-19 Dashboard.?This tool gives us a snapshot of the COVID-19 situation in Ottawa and provides up-to-date information on core indicators for local monitoring and informing reopening decisions. It includes four sections: (1) Virus Spread and Containment; (2) Health Care System Capacity; (3) Public Health; and (4) Testing and Tracking. Collectively, we want all four areas to show capacity and progress. If over time the trends continue as they are, that would be very positive. Our collective actions will determine the trajectory and we will continue to monitor these trends closely.

The people of Ottawa deserve credit for following the protocols that have been put in place to protect ourselves, our loved ones, our neighbours and our friends.  Stay the course, Ottawa: your actions are making a difference.

Provincial testing strategy

Ottawa continues to follow guidance provided by the Ontario Ministry of Health regarding testing. The Ontario government recently announced the next phase of its COVID-19 testing plan, Protecting Ontarians Through Enhanced Testing. The provincial plan includes three branches of testing:

Ottawa health care providers are working together to follow this three-part approach as well.

OPH’s role in the testing strategy is to inform the testing approach with the lens of access for less-advantaged populations, as well as if clusters or outbreaks are identified. The Champlain Health Region Incident Command oversees the operational side (i.e. the actual testing) and implements the assessment centre and targeted campaigns, such as testing in long-term care homes.

Any?Ottawa resident?who feels they?need a test, even if they are not?showing symptoms, can present for testing. In addition to the?COVID-19 Assessment Centre and Care Clinics, some family?doctors’?offices are providing this service, and mobile services are available for populations with need. OPH still recommends using the?COVID-19 self-assessment tool?if you are worried you were exposed to COVID-19 or have symptoms.

I would like to caution everyone that a negative test does not mean that you have “beat” the virus and that you are not at risk of getting COVID-19 at a later date. We still have community spread of COVID-19 in Ottawa. We must continue to practice physical distancing, wear a cloth mask when physical distancing is a challenge, and wash our hands regularly. These simple actions will help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and keep us safer.

Seniors Month

June is Seniors Month in Ontario, an opportunity to celebrate the significant contributions that older adults make to our families, our community and our society.

We recognize that these are very challenging times for older adults as they continue to self-isolate due to the risk of COVID-19. I want to encourage everyone to consider the older adults in your life, not only this month, but always. Give them a call. Write them a letter – anything to show that you are thinking of them and that you care.

Ottawa Public Health is excited to be collaborating with the Council on Aging of Ottawa and the National Association of Federal Retirees to offer the Let’s Talk COVID-19 & Reopening with Older Adults event.

This moderated session will include greetings from Mayor Jim Watson and our partners, the Council on Aging of Ottawa and the National Association of Federal Retirees, followed by a Q&A session where I will personally address your questions regarding COVID-19, reopening and what this means for older adults.

When: Wednesday June 3, 2020 at 1 pm 

Who:  

Please join us online for this exciting Facebook Live event here: www.Facebook.com/AgingWellInOttawa or on YouTube via the OPH website: www.OttawaPublicHealth.ca/Coronavirus.

A Facebook account is not needed to join the event. 

May 29, 2020 - Special statement from Dr. Vera Etches and Dr. Brent Moloughney

Dr. Vera Etches

First, I would like to begin by expressing my condolences to the family and friends of the personal support worker who recently passed away from the Madonna Care Home. Our thoughts are with you.

The Ottawa community has understood well the extraordinary measures required to avoid a health system catastrophe from COVID-19 infections increasing too quickly.  Because of Ottawans taking precautions, we are seeing results.  We can start to get back to work and access more services.  Thank you for continuing to observe recommendations through this challenging time.  

Testing

The Champlain Health Region Incident Command (CHRIC) oversees COVID-19 testing centres and the Eastern Ontario Laboratory Association.  Ottawa Public Health (OPH) is working with CHRIC to continue to adjust the COVID-19 testing strategy to balance demand for tests with laboratory capacity and ensure testing follows identified priorities.

Tests are completed in three general categories in Ottawa and across the province. First, for public health purposes related to case and contact management and controlling outbreaks.

When someone tests positive for COVID-19, OPH conducts contact tracing to identify contacts at risk for infection to stop the chain of transmission. In addition to self-isolation or self-monitoring of contacts, testing is used to identify those who may have become infected. When there is an outbreak in a congregate setting or workplace, staff and residents with the closest contact are tested, but depending upon the scenario, individuals on one floor or in the entire setting  are tested as part of disease control actions.  

Second, ongoing “surveillance” testing occurs in congregate settings. CHRIC and OPH are taking a risk-based approach so that congregate settings that face greater challenges to infection prevention and control complete testing more frequently. The frequency and approach will be further defined by the province.

The last category of testing is of the broader public that may be at risk of infection with COVID-19. People who have COVID-19-like symptoms are a priority for testing as soon as possible after symptoms appear.  The testing of more asymptomatic  people may provide more information about the geographic distribution of infections and hopefully help identify sources of exposure in the community to enable action to stop transmission.

Any Ottawa resident who feels they need a test, even if they are not showing symptoms, can present for testing. In addition to the COVID-19 Assessment Centre and Care Clinics, some family doctors’ offices are providing this service, and mobile services are available for populations with need by referral. OPH still recommends using the COVID-19 self-assessment tool if you are worried you were exposed to COVID-19 or have symptoms.

Daily screening of workers for symptoms of COVID-19

With workplaces increasingly reopening, OPH is encouraging daily screening of everyone working in the workplace by asking people if they have symptoms of COVID-19, such as fever and cough, sore throat or cold symptoms. Symptomatic people should go home, self-isolate and seek COVID-19 testing.  Tests are currently being turned around in about a day. Screening tools are available on OPH’s businesses and workplaces webpage at ottawapublichealth.ca.

OPH encourages individuals to seek medical care if feeling unwell by contacting your healthcare provider.

Dr. Brent Moloughney

Living with COVID-19

As we adapt to living with COVID-19, controlling the rate of transmission and the number of cases will help keep this virus under control. Only a few cases at the beginning of the pandemic in Ottawa required us to ramp up public health measures. At that time, the number of infections was doubling every three to four days.  

Until there is a vaccine or an effective treatment, while there is COVID-19 infection in Ottawa, public health advice includes practicing physical distancing, hand hygiene, wearing a cloth mask when physical distancing is not possible and limiting your contacts; all these measures are going to be part of our new normal.

Warm weather has finally arrived, businesses are reopening and more people are going back to work. This is good for our mental health and the economy, and we need to be wise with our actions as we continue to live with COVID-19.

I’m happy to see more people wearing masks when out in public places. This shows that people are getting the message to wear a mask when physical distancing may not be possible. This will become our new normal as the city reopens. Remember: my mask protects you and your mask protects me.

We are following the provincial framework to reopen which includes monitoring four dimensions: virus spread and containment, health care system capacity, public health behaviours and testing and tracing capacity.

Questions are arising about what is permissible and what is not as provincial orders change and many provincial restrictions remain in place.  Please continue to use the principle of protecting yourselves and others as you choose activities.

Examples of high-risk activities include having guests over, going to crowded places and participating in team or contact sports. Low-risk activities include going to less-crowded beaches or parks, enjoying a hobby alone like bird watching or shopping online with home delivery or curbside pickup options (preferably locally).

I know Ottawa is a resilient city. We’ve been through challenges before. And we’ve always worked together to address them and come out on the other side.

May 27, 2020 - Special statement from Dr. Vera Etches

I am saddened, disturbed and concerned about what was reported in the Canadian Armed Forces report (OP Laser – JTFC Observations in long-term care facilities in Ontario). I am supportive of the Ontario government’s immediate action to investigate further in long-term care homes (LTCH) across the province. Everyone deserves proper care and a safe home.

OPH is continuing to work with healthcare partners to provide infection prevention and control (IPAC) support LTCH to control COVID-19 in our community. Homes in outbreak are contacted almost daily and regular on-site visits enable direct assessment of IPAC practices in the homes. Every LTCH and retirement home is rated every day in terms of needs for support, whether for IPAC training or supplies, and as it relates to staffing. In other cities, the military has been brought in when staffing levels could not be met. Here in Ottawa, LTCHs in greatest need have been paired with hospitals and the Champlain Health Region Incident Command (CHRIC) monitors how hospitals are meeting staffing requests of homes, as well as works to build capacity of homes to hire needed support. The LTCH regulator’s inspectors have been kept informed about work underway in Ottawa-based homes.

Beat the heat

We are currently experiencing our first heatwave of this summer, which will be challenging in a different way this year. Heat warnings mean extra precautions need to be taken by everyone. Some of the usual ways we cool off are not yet available this summer because of measures put in place to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Please think ahead and plan for ways to stay cool and keep in touch with others who may not be able to stay cool, especially during a heat warning. Some ways to protect yourself and help others during hot weather:

The City of Ottawa has set up four emergency cooling centres to provide relief from the heat to residents in need. The emergency cooling centers are set up to ensure users can practice proper physical distancing and will have access to washrooms and water. Residents should bring a cloth mask with them to the cooling centres if they have one. Emergency cooling centres will be open Tuesday, May 26 from 3 pm to 7 pm, and will operate on Wednesday, May 27 and Thursday May 28 from 11 am to 7 pm.  We expect this heat wave to subside by end of day Thursday. The emergency cooling centres are located at the following City facilities: 

Visit OPH’s Extreme Heat and Humidity page for more information.

Testing

OPH continues to follow guidance provided by the Ontario Ministry of Health regarding testing. Any Ottawa resident who feels they need a test, even if they are not showing symptoms, can present for testing. Note that this may lead to longer waits to access testing if many people show up. In addition to the COVID-19 Assessment Centre and Care Clinics, some family doctors’ offices are providing this service, and mobile services are available for populations with need. OPH still recommends using the COVID-19 self-assessment tool if you are worried you were exposed to COVID-19 or have symptoms.

We continue to work with healthcare partners to ensure this increased testing capacity is best used to find out where the virus is in the community and break chains of transmission.

Mental health support?

Unfortunately, as is often the case during a difficult time, we are seeing that mental health concerns and issues are on the rise, perhaps exacerbated because residents may not have access to their regular coping strategies. ?The Ottawa Distress Centre has seen a significant spike in calls for help to access mental health and addiction supports and for people in crisis. ?Increases in stress, anxiousness, sadness and loneliness have been highlighted from local service providers.   ?

?OPH and our community and hospital partners have come together to better support residents. ?We are very proud of our partners supporting mental health and grateful for the work they have been doing. ?Some examples include the Royal Ottawa's C-PROMPT clinic providing ongoing counselling services, which received over 400 referrals since it launched on April 16, and the Royal's Health Care Worker Mental Health Clinic providing clinical services to healthcare workers and paramedics. ?The Ottawa Health Team and partner agencies, including OPH, are providing the Counselling Connect service for same-day or next-day phone or video counselling. And, as part of the Kids Come First Health Team, Youth Services Bureau (YSB) has modified their 24/7 crisis service to help youth and families get connected to the right Child and Youth Mental Health and Addictions service in Ottawa.

??Visit OPH’s Mental Health and COVID-19 page for additional resources.

Living with COVID-19

I am pleased to share that when OPH contact tracers follow-up with COVID-19 positive cases, contacts per case dropped from approximately20 contacts to ?an average of five. This shows that people are being smart about distancing and helping to continue plank the curve.

Despite this progress, we only have a small margin of safety if we want to continue to pin down the virus. If we increase our close contacts too widely and too quickly, the number of cases and outbreaks may rise sharply, which will put a burden on the health care system – something we have fortunately avoided so far. As we reopen and are no longer focusing on “just staying home,” we need to be smart about distancing, engaging in lower risk activities and learning to live with the virus.

Keep protecting others by wearing a cloth mask when a two-metre distance cannot be kept and limiting your contacts. We are working with various partners to develop a supply of cloth masks for those who will have difficulty accessing or purchasing a mask. I hope to share more details as we finalize those details and partnerships.

NEW: Ottawa COVID-19 Dashboard

We’ve been exploring different measures to better convey how OPH is monitoring COVID-19’s spread in the community, which is especially important now that restrictions have begun to ease and the province is reopening. Today, we launched the Ottawa COVID-19 Dashboard to provide this information to the public in a user-friendly format.

We’ve introduced a colour-coding system to let people know what is the bottom-line. On a scale from red, orange, yellow and green, we are currently in the orange category. The colour rating is based on our public health and health system capacity, our ability to test and track the virus and on current spread in the community. This new public dashboard, which will be updated daily, will hopefully help residents better understand the situation and the impact of their actions. Each of us matter and each of us will help determine the trajectory of the number of infections in our community and our freedoms into the future.

May 25, 2020 - Special statement from Dr. Vera Etches

Thank you to everyone who practiced physical distancing over what was another beautiful weekend in Ottawa. Spending time in nature can have positive impacts on our mental health and the sunshine and warmer temperatures makes being outdoors much more enticing for many of us. 

I want to continue to stress the importance that as we go about reopening Ottawa and resuming activities, we must do so in a smart way, which includes keeping our two metre distance from others and wearing a mask in close contact with people outside our households. The likelihood and severity of a second wave is largely determined by our actions; what we do today will impact our future freedoms.  

Testing strategy 

Yesterday Premier Doug Ford stated that anyone in Ontario who is worried about having been exposed to COVID-19 can present for testing even if not showing symptoms. Ottawa Public Health (OPH) and the COVID-19 Assessment Centre & COVID-19 Care Clinics are awaiting further guidance provided by the Ontario Ministry of Health regarding testing.  

Any Ottawa resident who feels they need a test, even if they are not showing symptoms of illness, can now go for testing at the COVID-19 Assessment Centre or the COVID-19 Care Clinics and should not be turned away unless volumes are significant.  Populations at highest risk for COVID-19 transmission like healthcare workers and people with symptoms of illness will need to be prioritized if demand outstrips capacity. 

The available test detects COVID-19 virus in the body, not antibodies, so the test cannot tell you if you have had COVID-19 infection in the past. 

Since yesterday’s provincial announcement, we have seen increased numbers of individuals presenting for testing at the COVID-19 Assessment Centre and COVID-19 Care Clinics. If you do present for testing, please be prepared for longer wait times and wear a mask if you are able to do so. When wait times are significant, priority will be given to residents from high-risk groups and those showing symptoms.  

Our website has been updated to reflect this change in testing: please see www.OttawaPublicHealth.ca/Coronavirus for more details. We expect a formal testing strategy to be announced by the ministry later this week. 

In addition to the COVID-19 Assessment Centre and Care Clinics, some family doctors offices are providing this service, and mobile services are available for populations with need. We will be announcing further options for accessing COVID19 tests in the future.I am pleased that our labs have been able to increase testing capacity. As it stands, the Champlain region is able to process approximately 1,900 tests per day. We are working with healthcare partners to ensure this increased testing capacity is best used tofind out where the virus is in the community and break chains of transmission, with a focus on populations at highest risk.  

For more information on testing, please visit ottawapublichealth.ca

Reopening cautiously 

We’ve been asked about the number of cases rising in Ontario and whether it really is the right time to be reopening. At this point, increases in cases are mostly in the Greater Toronto Area, not in Ottawa.   We will continue to monitor the situation locally and inform the public; people need to know what is happening where they live. 

Last Friday, Dr. Doug Manuel shared a cautionary note on reopening: while everyone in Ottawa has contributed to flattening the curve, we cannot move forward as though the virus is gone.  We still have outbreaks and a stable level of hospitalizations in Ottawa. We must find ways to live with this virus.  Our goal is to resume activities in a way that decreases risk of transmission – keeping distance between ourselves and supporting businesses’ employees’ health and protecting others by wearing masks when within two metres of someone. 

Heat preparedness 

Hot weather has come early this year in Ottawa and southern Ontario. To reduce the burden on our health care system, I want to remind residents of ways to prevent heat-related illnesses.    

Heat and high humidity can be difficult to deal with, especially for people at risk such as older adults, infants, outdoor workers and people with pre-existing health conditions.  

Ottawa Public Health is encouraging residents to get ready for the heat by having a plan on how they will stay cool and prevent heat related illnesses.  With many of our usual places to cool off not open right now, such as libraries, pools and shopping malls we will have to rely on other means to cool off.   

Cool water and the use of fans or air conditioning are two very effective ways of staying cool. Some good reminders to prevent heat related illnesses include: 

For more information visit ottawapublichealth.ca/beattheheat

Hot weather concerns and face masks: 

Wearing a mask is important to decrease transmission of COVID-19 in any indoor setting where it may be difficult to maintain at least two-metre distancing or the room or corridor is small. Wearing a mask may not be necessary outdoors (where higher temperatures may be more of a concern) if distances can be maintained. 

Masks do become more uncomfortable in hot temperatures, but they will still work. The general public should plan outdoor outings for the coolest times of the day and take breaks in the shade or a cool environment if they are finding a face mask uncomfortable in the heat.   

For people undertaking physical exertion in heat, a mask can make the effort more difficult. Decreasing intensity/volume of work, more frequent rests, and more cooling breaks may be necessary. Discuss your health needs with your employer. 

Paramedic Services Week 

This week is Paramedic Services Week, an opportunity to recognize the invaluable work these frontline workers commit to every day. 

Our paramedics are on the front lines during this fight against COVID-19 and have played an integral role in responding to and preventing the spread of COVID-19. 

On behalf of Ottawa Public Health, thank you Ottawa paramedics for being there to help protect the health and well-being of all Ottawa residents.  

May 22, 2020 - Special statement from Dr. Vera Etches

At the end of this first week of reopening, and as the warmer weather appears to be here to stay, many people may be feeling like we have entered a new phase of this pandemic, and they would be correct. And, now is not the time to ease up on our efforts that have been keeping this virus pinned down. We are still learning how we can live with COVID-19 in our community while continuing to do some of the activities that we enjoy. I can’t say enough that we must continue to keep physical distancing and wear a cloth mask in situations when we can’t keep a two-metre distance from others outside our household.  These activities prevent infections.

We are still in this together as a community to protect ourselves and others.   

As we resume some of our usual activities and routines like shopping or grabbing take-out coffee, perhaps seeing others we have not seen in a long time at that two-meter distance, you may experience a variety of emotions. I for one got a little emotional yesterday when I saw the usual person serving in the coffee shop down the street when it reopened after two months. This is normal during times of stress and uncertainty and when we see signs of overcoming adversity. 

Thank you so much for your efforts in the first phase of the pandemic response and for your resilience to continue your hard work and share ideas on how we can live within this new normal.   

Testing strategy 

Testing to detect as many COVID19 infections in our community as we can is another one of the efforts that will help keep the virus pinned down as we begin to reopen Ottawa. 

I’d like to remind everyone that testing is now available to anyone with suspected COVID-19 symptoms. Many family physicians’ offices are open, so please check with them first.  And, the assessment centre, care clinics and laboratories have the capacity to offer this testing for everyone that needs it. 

By getting tested, you are helping us find every case we can to stop transmission of COVID-19; this information helps us to detect cases more quickly, understand what transmission is occurring in the community, investigate potential sources and identify outbreaks earlier.   

The testing strategy continues to evolve based on the needs of the community, testing capacity as well as provincial guidance. Currently, discussions are underway about in what situations it makes sense to test people who are asymptomatic. We currently test people who are asymptomatic in situations of outbreaks in congregate care settings.  Ottawa’s testing capacity has grown significantly since the declaration of the virus in Canada, but we still do not have the capacity to test everyone in Ottawa. We’re working closely with our healthcare, provincial and federal partners to best use our testing capacity. 

We encourage employers and organizations to consider using a screening questionnaire available on OPH’s website that your staff and volunteers can use to self-assess for COVID-19 symptoms before starting their work day. Any employees with even mild symptoms should not work when ill and are strongly encouraged to present for testing.

Focus on prevention 

I know that testing gets a lot of attention, but prevention is essential and has always been a key focus for the work of public health. We would much rather prevent cases of COVID-19 in our community than chase the virus down once it starts spreading. We know that prevention saves the health care system dollars, but it also saves lives.  Not getting sick in the first place is better for everyone, particularly when there is no effective cure for the infection. 

Early public health advice to practice physical distancing has prevented transmission in our community, and I thank all of you who continue to practice preventive measures such as physical distancing, washing your hands frequently, not touching your face and wearing a cloth mask when in close contact with people outside your household.  Testing is not enough.  These measures are important to continue to limit transmission in the community.  

Case and contact management 

Connecting with people with confirmed COVID-19 and their contacts, to support them to do their part to manage their illness and decrease further transmission, is another essential public health measure in place to help keep the virus pinned down as we begin to reopen Ottawa.

When OPH is notified of a confirmed case of COVID-19, we call the individual within 24 hours and begin the process of contact tracing. Through our case and contact management work, OPH is seeing that the number of close contacts per case is now often less than five and contacts are usually household contacts. Before physical distancing and self-isolation measures were introduced, OPH was notifying approximately 15 to 20 close contacts per case. We will continue to monitor the impact of reopening and how this influences the number of close contacts per case. Modelling shows that in Ottawa, if contacts rise by even 20 per cent, we can anticipate to see hospitalizations increase.   

I encourage everyone to get outside and enjoy this beautiful weather. Please keep doing what you're doing to limit your total contacts: stay two metres apart, wash your hands and wear a cloth mask when you can’t keep physical distance. Your actions are appreciated and will be what allows us to live in a more sustainable way in the future.   

May 20, 2020 - Special statement from Dr. Vera Etches

During the next few months, public health’s role will be to continue to: 

Engaging with the community

One way that Ottawa Public Health (OPH) has engaged with residents is through an online engagement platform.

Today is the last day for residents to provide feedback on our survey during the first phase of the engagement platform called COVID-19: Share your thoughts. Please consider contributing your thoughts at engage.ottawa.ca/covid19 if you have not yet joined this conversation. Your feedback will help inform our approach to easing restrictions.

Since launching on May 1, we have heard from more than 1,500 residents, and more than 9,000 residents have accessed information on the page. More than 90% of respondents have shared they understand why we must continue practicing physical distancing, and that they will continue to do so even as we are able to ease restrictions. Many respondents are open to mitigation measures like wearing non-medical cloth masks (89%) and scheduling outings to limit crowding (70%). This is good news.

More information on the next phase of our engagement will be provided in the near future.

Outdoor recreational amenities

Yesterday the reopening of outdoor recreational amenities came into effect. One of the most common concerns we’ve heard from residents during the COVID-19 response was lack of ability to engage in activities in outdoor green space, so this is welcome news. It means more outdoor space for everyone to take advantage of the nice weather and to get out and be active.

Business toolkit

OPH is pleased to have supported the development of the City’s business reopening toolkit. Getting people back to work safely is a priority. We are here to support businesses to do that during this next phase.

Examples of resources in the toolkit include setting up your space to allow for physical distancing, cleaning and disinfecting, screening tools for employees, and signage.

If businesses are not ready to open, they don’t need to. If they are successfully offering online deliveries, curbside pick-up, or individual appointments, we encourage them continue to use those strategies. These strategies allow businesses and customers to maintain physical distancing which has been key in keeping infections down in our community so far.

I want to reiterate what Chair Egli said: Recommended physical distancing measures don’t change with reopening. Please remember to continue to stay two metres away from people who do not live in your household, and if you cannot maintain this two-metre distance OPH recommends you wear a cloth mask.

Mapping of confirmed COVID-19 in Ottawa

We have begun to look at the data of confirmed cases in different ways. Today we launched a new map that reflects the rate of COVID-19 infection in residents by ward. This map, which will be updated every two weeks starting next week, can be found on our COVID-19 Epidemiology Update web page.

While it is clear that COVID-19 is present in every single community within Ottawa, this map provides a snapshot of COVID-19 across Ottawa, based on ward geograp