Special Statement from Dr. Brent Moloughney

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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