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 geography.

I want to stress that these maps cannot be used to identify “COVID-19 hot spots” in Ottawa. OPH is sharing this information in the interest of transparency. Areas with lower or higher rates are not more or less safe from COVID-19 transmission. The map is based on where residents with confirmed COVID-19 live and does not reflect where the disease was contracted. These maps are not intended to assist with service delivery planning, recovery efforts, or requests for additional services at a neighbourhood level.

OPH capacity to follow-up with cases and contacts

When OPH is notified of a confirmed case of COVID-19, OPH notifies the individual within 24 hours and begins the process of contact tracing.  In late April, OPH increased the number of staff conducting case and contact management, which has allowed OPH to achieve the 90 per cent target of reaching out to contacts within 24 hours from when they are identified and following up with 94 to 98 per cent percent of cases within 24 hours.

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 are usually household contacts. Before physical distancing and self-isolation measures were introduced, OPH was notifying approximately 15 to 20 close contacts per case.

OPH will continue to work seven days a week to contact trace all infections to prevent further outbreaks in the community. This role will be especially important as we reopen, and additional opportunities to be in contact with individuals outside our household's increase.

We’ve made great progress in flattening the curve, thanks to everyone’s efforts. However, we still have community spread of COVID-19 in Ottawa; 17% of cases have no known exposure. As restrictions ease, our goal is to reduce the spread of COVID-19, to keep case levels manageable for our health care system to be able to care for everyone that needs the help. 

May 19, 2020 - Special statement from Dr. Vera Etches

Thank you to the people of Ottawa for celebrating your long weekend differently this year. It is great to see many people enjoying the outdoors while practicing physical distancing and limiting your contacts.

Reopening Ottawa

As part of Ontario’s Framework for Reopening the Province, many businesses are reopening today. While this will have positive impacts on the economy and hopefully mental health, there are now increased opportunities for interacting with others and a greater chance of the virus spreading. The vast majority of the population remains susceptible to the COVID-19 virus and the virus is still present in the community, with undetected and asymptomatic infections posing a challenge to containment. Our message remains the same: the fewer people you come into contact with the better to keep COVID-19 pinned down.

The recommended physical distancing measures don’t change with reopening. Dr. Theresa Tam has encouraged Canadians to only go out if you can “go out smart”.

Going out smart while living with COVID-19 in our community means:  

Gloves

In the last week, we have heard questions about the effectiveness of wearing gloves in public and whether it provides protection from COVID-19. Ottawa Public Health (OPH) does not recommend wearing gloves. Wearing gloves can make you feel more protected from the virus than you actually are. Whether or not you are wearing gloves, if you touch high-contact surfaces and then touch your face, you are increasing the risk of getting COVID-19 and transmitting COVID-19 to others. If you choose to not follow this advice and wear gloves in public, visit the Frequently Asked Questions section on OttawaPublicHealth.ca/coronavirus to ensure you use them correctly. Remember that hand washing with soap and water or using hand sanitizer is effective to reduce the spread of germs and to prevent yourself and others from getting sick.

Self-screening tool for employees

As businesses and employers start considering re-opening, we have some guidance on our website that can help promote the health and safety of employees and residents who may be accessing services.  If possible, working remotely or from home is always a great way to respect physical distancing.  For employers, it is important to know that pre-employment testing is currently not required for employees to return to work. We do recommend employees use a self-screening tool. Self-screening in advance of each shift can help detect when someone should be assessed for testing and detect new infections more quickly. . Employees with symptoms of infection consistent with COVID19 should not go to work. Any Ottawa resident who has symptoms is recommended to be assessed for testing at the COVID-19 Assessment Centre or COVID-19 Care Clinics; the centres have the capacity for this increased testing.  

OPH’s website also links to the province’s recommended guidelines for businesses and workplaces on our website to help businesses reopen in a way that considers the health and safety of both employees and customers.

OPH capacity to follow-up with cases and contacts

OPH is following up with 94% of cases within 24 hours. When OPH is notified of a confirmed case of COVID-19, OPH notifies the individual within 24 hours and begins the process of contact tracing.

OPH reaches out to 100 per cent of contacts within the 24 hours from when they are identified. The length of time it takes to complete the contact tracing can vary as some individuals may be quite ill. The contact notification process can also vary in length, depending on the number of close contacts and length of time it takes to connect with them. Through our case and contact management work, OPH is seeing that the number of close contacts per case has decreased since physical distancing and self-isolation measures were introduced.

OPH has increased the number of staff conducting case and contract management. As of April 23, we have 55-115 employees working each day, seven days a week. In early March, prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, the Communicable Disease team consisted of six full-time people.

COVID-19: Share your thoughts

Lastly, the first phase of the city-wide online engagement platform COVID-19: Share your thoughts is closing tomorrow, May 20. Please continue to contribute to this discussion to help the City and OPH to learn more about your thoughts, perceptions and understanding of current restrictions in place related to COVID-19. The information we receive from residents will help to ensure we develop a plan for the recovery period that aligns with the province and meets the needs and expectations of our community as much as possible. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, community input is always important.  

During this next phase of gradual reopening, our approach must be flexible. We are learning new information about this novel virus on a regular basis. Ottawa Public Health will continue to rigorously track and work to contain the spread of the COVID-19 during the next phase.

May 15, 2020 – Joint statement from Dr. Vera Etches and Dr. Brent Moloughney 

As we start our long weekend, we hope all residents can take some time to enjoy the weather and being outdoors. Please remember to continue to stay two metres away from people who do not live in your household, and if you are in public places where you cannot maintain this two metre distance, please wear a non-medical cloth mask if possible. As some businesses and public spaces reopen, there are increased opportunities for interacting with others, so there is a greater chance of the virus spreading. Our message remains the same: the less people you come into contact with, the better to keep COVID-19 pinned down.

We are still  in a pandemic situation. We trust that the people of Ottawa will continue to be vigilant to protect themselves and others. Although we are seeing some positive signs, such as the number of cases and deaths decreasing and hospitalization rates stabilizing, the virus has not left our community. We want to prevent a second wave of the virus, because if infections increase rapidly our healthcare system could be overwhelmed, more people will die, and businesses will potentially suffer from having to scale back again.   

The daily case numbers continue to show that there is community spread of the virus - cases that we cannot attribute to direct contact of a confirmed case or travel. For example we have had 1,753 cases, with about half (52%) acquired in institutions. But, as for the situation in the community, there were 20% from known close contacts and approximately 20% are community acquired cases where the individual could not identify the source of the virus. Contributing to this situation is that people can be asymptomatic and still spread the virus. With a lot of focus on long-term care homes, I believe people are starting to think that the virus is only occurring in those homes. This is not the case.  We are strongly encouraging everyone who has symptoms that could be COVID-19 to self-isolate and to present for assessment, even if the symptoms are mild, so we can track down the sources of infection in the community and break chains of transmission.

We do not know how long we will live with COVID-19 in the community, so we have to find healthy ways to cope in this new reality. Please stay home if you are ill, continue washing your hands, disinfecting shared surfaces, and wearing a non-medical mask when physical distancing is not possible.

Monitoring and Testing

As more businesses and public spaces reopen in Ottawa, all of us have a role to play – Ottawa Public Health, residents, our partners, and businesses. 

Some of the key roles for public health are to:

OPH announced on Wednesday that testing is now available to everyone with suspected COVID-19 symptoms. The province also followed with this announcement yesterday for all Ontarians. It is essential for us to identify people with COVID-19 infections and follow-up with them quickly to provide information and the importance of self-isolating and to identify their close contacts, so that they can also self-isolate. This management of cases and their contacts is one of the essential public health measures in place to help keep the virus pinned down as we begin to reopen Ottawa.

Again, we encourage anyone with symptoms to go for testing. You can now be assessed for testing at both the Assessment Centre and Care Clinics; they have the capacity for this increased testing. 

People have asked us why they should go for testing, especially if their symptoms are mild and they are managing okay at home. By getting tested, you are helping us find every case we can to stop the transmission; this information helps us to detect cases more quickly, understand what transmission is occurring in the community, investigate the source, and identify outbreaks earlier.    

Support for long term care homes   

COVID-19 Support Teams have continued outreach to long-term care homes (LTCH) identified by public health as “red,” or high risk. Homes flagged as “yellow” (i.e. moderate risk) are also being engaged for outreach.

Health-care teams in the Champlain Health Region successfully tested residents in all 60 local LTCH ahead of the provincial government’s May 15 deadline. Over the last three weeks more than 7,000 residents and 8,000 staff have been tested by teams comprised of hospital staff, public health, and paramedics.

Meeting this testing mandate reflects a tremendous effort by our regional partners. We would like to take the opportunity to thank the Brewer Assessment Centre staff, the Queensway Carleton Hospital, Hopital Montfort, and the Ottawa Paramedic Service for their commitment to supporting LTCH in the Champlain Region.

A number of partnerships between hospitals and LTCH have now been established to support staffing needs, and more continue to be established as assessments continue. Retirement homes are being included in our outreach model, and are being categorized with the same colour criteria as LTCH.

The “tier two” escalation process that has been established for regional support if a hospital is unable to adequately staff its partner long-term care home(s) is being tracked daily (see example below).

Gradual reopening and supports for businesses

The province has announced the plan to gradually reopen some businesses and public spaces. By slowly reopening, we will be better able to assess and monitor any increases in transmission of the virus within the community, and hopefully reduce the impact of any outbreaks.

OPH has links to the province’s recommended guidelines for businesses and workplaces on our website to help guide reopening in a way that considers the health and safety of both employees and customers. 

We will be monitoring the impact of the reopening of businesses and other easing of COVID-19 restrictions. As these changes increase our interactions with others, there is an increased risk of infection rates rising.  We have to stay vigilant and continue to practice physical distancing and limiting the total number of people that we come in contact with; these are what have flattened the curve and kept demands on hospital capacity manageable so far. Recommended physical distancing measures don’t change with reopening.

What residents can do to reduce transmission

Thank you to the people of Ottawa for your hard work and efforts to protect our community.  I’ve already spoken about what to do if you’re feeling ill. We also want everyone to continue your efforts to lower the chance that you will spread the virus unknowingly to someone else or that someone will give it to you.

When you are outside your home, we recommend that you protect yourself and others by:

Wearing a mask is new for many people, but we have already seen this happening in our community. When more people wear a mask, especially as more businesses and public spaces reopen, wearing masks is one element that allows a city to control spread of transmission, get control of the disease, and have more freedom. We know that some individuals who are infected with COVID-19 are asymptomatic, and wearing a mask limits their ability to infect others.

If you are wearing a mask, you are caring for others. As Chair Egli said at yesterday’s town hall: “My mask protects you, and your mask protects me.”

There is information on our website about where to get a non-medical mask and how to wear and wash a mask. We also launched a mask contest today on The Link Ottawa (Ottawa Public Health’s youth-focused Instagram), to encourage youth to embrace proper mask use and come up with fun and quirky names for masks. 

We also recently connected with residents through an online survey and the results give us increased confidence that the people of Ottawa are committed to continue to follow public heath guidance and protect each other. 94 percent of respondents said they will continue to practice physical distancing even as some restrictions are relaxed. And almost 90 per cent of respondents said they would be willing to wear a non-medical mask in public to be allowed to access more services.

Lastly, I would like to remind residents that we