Dr. Etches watching COVID-19 levels in Ottawa ‘very carefully’

Ottawa’s top doctor says she’s “watching very carefully” as COVID-19 levels in the nation’s capital hover along the threshold to move the city into Ontario’s red zone on the coronavirus reopening framework.

Ottawa Public Health added 40 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday with the number of active cases holding relatively steady at 512.

One additional person has died in connection with COVID-19 in Ottawa, raising the city’s death toll of the pandemic to 444.

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The city’s coronavirus incidence rate now sits at 36.8 cases per 100,000 people, with a rate of 40 cases per 100,000 marking the threshold that could push Ottawa from the orange-restrict level to the red-control zone on the provincial reopening framework.

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Ottawa’s medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches told reporters Tuesday that while monitoring indicators like these have been steady as of late, the recent “sharp rise” in viral signal detected in the city’s wastewater system could foretell a rise in COVID-19 cases in the coming days.

“History has shown that whenever the wastewater indicators go up, the number of people who test positive follows suit,” she said.

Etches also pointed to the rising number of possible COVID-19 variants of concern detected in the city — now up to 124, she said — as a worrying trend.

Click to play video 'Ontario is seeing ‘significant increase’ in number of coronavirus variants' Ontario is seeing ‘significant increase’ in number of coronavirus variants

Ontario is seeing ‘significant increase’ in number of coronavirus variants

But she said she’s “watching very carefully” and is not yet at the point where she’s recommending to the province an early shift to the red zone.

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Etches said she thinks Ottawa residents are “paying attention” and tightening up their behaviours to keep coronavirus spread in check.

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Still, she pointed to the number of private gatherings, especially around organized sports teams, as an area of prevention where residents need to be more diligent.

Vaccination plans ramping up

Starting Wednesday, all Ottawa residents aged 90 and older can call to book an appointment for a COVID-19 vaccine, regardless of where they live.

Anthony Di Monte, the head of Ottawa’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution task force, said Tuesday there are roughly 6,000 people in this new cohort that the city expects to be able to vaccinate “relatively quickly.”

After this group has received their first dose, he expects to open up appointments to the general population aged 80 and older. Until then, only residents in this cohort living in a number of high-risk neighbourhoods have been eligible to book an appointment.

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Wednesday will also see patient-facing health workers able to pre-register for their spot in the vaccination queue.

Given the tens of thousands of people in Ottawa that fall into this category, the city is embarking on a pre-registration campaign for ease of notification and booking when the province gives the go-ahead to inoculate this cohort.

Di Monte confirmed Tuesday that Ottawa will not be receiving any doses from the province’s initial shipment of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines, as those will be allocated to pharmacies for distribution in three regions elsewhere in Ontario.

He said the city expects to conduct the next phases of its mass vaccination campaign using the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine supply it has been working with to date.

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: WHO says ‘vaccine passports’ for travel has ethical considerations due to inequality' Coronavirus: WHO says ‘vaccine passports’ for travel has ethical considerations due to inequality

Coronavirus: WHO says ‘vaccine passports’ for travel has ethical considerations due to inequality

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