Special Statement from Dr. Vera Etches

Hello. Bonjour. Kwey.

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

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

Testing

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

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

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

Isolation guidance

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

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

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

Vaccine rollout

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you. Merci. Meegwetch.