Ottawa’s top doctor concerned about the pace of COVID-19 vaccinations as Ontario faces the fourth wave

OTTAWA — Ottawa’s medical officer of health says COVID-19 vaccination policies, masking policies and limiting social contacts will help Ottawa combat the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, Dr. Vera Etches warns the current vaccination pace in Ottawa may not be quick enough as new modelling warns Ontario is facing a “substantial” fourth wave of the pandemic with up to 4,000 cases a day by October,

Ottawa Public Health has set a goal of over 90 per cent of eligible Ottawa residents fully vaccinated against COVID-19. As of Wednesday, 79 per cent of residents 12 and older had received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.

“The pace if it continues as it is would be around mid-October (to reach 90 per cent), that’s a bit late when you can compare it to the modelling from the Ontario Science Table that the resurgence is likely going to be here the third week of September or so,” said Etches on Thursday morning.

“It is important that people are protected as soon as possible with the vaccine, and I am encouraged that the ongoing conversation on the value of vaccines, the support from policies, the different access in neighbourhoods will increase the rate.”

On Wednesday, the Ontario government announced a COVID-19 vaccine passport would be implemented on Sept. 22, requiring people 12 and older to be fully vaccinated to access non-essential businesses like restaurants, gyms, movie theatres, concerts and sporting events.

“Ottawa Public Health is supportive of policies that increase immunization coverage in our city and we support the province’s announcement to require proof of vaccination to access certain businesses and settings,” said Etches.

On Thursday, Ottawa Public Health released a toolkit for Ottawa businesses to develop their own COVID-19 vaccination policies.  The new “Guide on How to Create a Workplace Vaccination Policy for employers” provides key considerations for the development and implementation of their own workplace vaccination policies.

Associate Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brent Moloughney says the health unit “strongly recommends” businesses implement vaccination policies.

“Employers have a responsibility to maintain a safe work environment for their employees,” said Moloughney. “Supporting employees to get fully vaccinated is the best way to help protect them from the risk of COVID-19, prevent outbreaks and build confidence in the workplace as we face a more transmissible Delta fuelled resurgence in our community.”

‘I’M STILL HOPEFUL,’ ETCHES SAYS

Dr. Etches acknowledges this is a “stressful time” for parents and Ottawa residents, with new COVID-19 vaccination requirements and the start of the school year.

Despite the recent rise in COVID-19 cases in Ottawa, and the new modelling data warning of a “substantial” fourth wave, Dr. Etches says she’s “hopeful” we can avoid another lockdown.

“With the latest COVID numbers and the modelling that are concerning, I’m still hopeful. I’m hopeful because we have beaten the odds before, I’ve seen Ottawa persevere, I’ve seen people come together as a community while staying two metres apart to support one another,” said Etches.

“The Delta variant is presenting challenges, but we’ve learned a lot in the last 18 months. We have the tools; we have the knowledge and resilience to get through this next phase.”

Ottawa Public Health reported 39 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, with eight people in hospital due to COVID-19 related illnesses. 

The medical officer of health says the COVID-19 situation in Ottawa is currently manageable, and she doesn’t see the need to implement new COVID-19 restrictions.

“I think we need to monitor the situation and evaluate as we go if more is needed,” said Etches.

“We know it is not just the size of the gatherings, it’s whether people can distance, whether people are wearing masks, whether they’re outdoors. So it’s putting these variables together, we want to keep choosing the lower risk activities. Size is one where we know people can make the choice to have fewer contacts.”

Etches says Ottawa’s goals remain the same heading into September and the new school year: decreasing deaths and keep a “functioning health care system for all of the health care needs that people have.”

“So approaching September with caution is key. In addition to getting fully vaccinated, we can achieve our goals by maintaining the public health measures that we’ve come to know so well and choosing safer activities,” said Etches.

“So this means gathering in well-ventilated areas, especially outdoors, keeping gatherings small, avoiding large crowds were masking and distancing can’t be maintained.”

PRIORITIZE SCHOOLS BEING OPEN THIS FALL, ETCHES SAYS

With students in Ottawa’s two French language boards back in class this week, and public school students returning to class next week, Etches says it is important that Ontario “prioritize” schools being open this fall.

The medical officer of health says adults need to do what they can to protect children in schools, including being vaccinated.

“I do think that we do need to prioritize schools being open this fall by taking a look at the other places in the community where we can decrease public transmission,” said Etches.

“So some of these policies, some of the ongoing measures are important to be able to keep transmission low in schools – the vaccination policies, the masking policies, all of these –  and then or individual choices to choose lower risk activities we can prioritize the health of children this fall.”

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