Message from Dr. Etches – March 31st

  • Community Update

“I want to thank our hospital partners for joining us today to share this important message.

My counterparts represent healthcare workers who have been at the front lines of the pandemimic for 13 months. While hospital staff are resilient, resourceful and brave, they are also human. They are exhausted and we share the responsibility as a community to support one another to reduce the pressure on our healthcare system and keep it functioning for all of us, when we need it.

Ottawa Public Health continues to report daily new numbers in the triple digits when it comes to people testing positive for COVID-19. 117 today. 112 yesterday. 184 Monday. The rate has doubled in the last two weeks since we moved to Red-Control Zone of the provincial framework. That move has not turned the curve.

The rate of COVID per 100,000 people is 91.6. The Rt number is 1.2 and our per cent positivity is 5.9%. These are all well above the threshold for Red-Control and increasing. And as our hospital partners will tell you today, hospitalizations are once again on the rise as are the number of people in intensive care units.

Our healthcare system is stretched. Cases are rising, hospitalizations are increasing, the testing centres are maxed out, and our case management team is no longer able to contact trace as we have through previous surges. We are currently seeing an average of four high-risk contacts per individual who tests positive. And with 117 new positive results today, that means almost five hundred high-risk contacts today alone. OPH will continue to follow up with individuals who test positive for COVID-19, but we will be asking them to be responsible for notifying their close contacts.

The places COVID spreads the most continue to be private gatherings such as parties, barbecues and after-work get-togethers and team sports, even outdoors, where public health measures like physical distancing and mask wearing are not followed.

The variants of concern are taking over in the wastewater, having grown from 10 per cent on March 20 to 50 per cent of all the COVID detected on March 25. This demonstrates their higher rate of transmission compared to non-variant of concern COVID-19 types.

While we are seeing transmission among all age groups, the majority of transmission is still occurring in the 20 to 39 age group. This age group will not be protected by vaccine for months. Younger people are showing up in the hospital. And earlier this week, the community lost someone in their 40s to COVID-19.

This needs to be very clear: COVID-19 affects all of us and this virus does not discriminate. COVID-19 is everywhere.

While OPH and partners are focused on working in areas with higher rates of COVID-19 and reaching younger people, the virus is present in all types of settings across the city.

At times we feel safer with close friends or family. We wrongfully equate not wearing a mask with trusting one another. Some people may still be observing a “bubble” with others, but with variants of concern, asymptomatic transmission, and numbers as high as they are – now is not a time to feel safe and let down our guard around others outside of our immediate household.

We have always said that our individual actions matter. We have encouraged residents to be vigilant, check your blind spots and adjust your behaviours. And for so long, you have done that. So, to call our current situation disheartening, after all the work residents have put in, would be a gross understatement. We are seeing what we feared; the vaccine hasn’t arrived in time to outpace the growth of COVID in the community. We are at a point we have never seen before during this pandemic.

If we do not get the levels of COVID-19 back under control, we will see stronger lockdowns like we’ve seen in other countries around the world, and for longer. We will see more businesses suffer. We will see our health care system once again become overwhelmed. We will see people in hospital hallways on stretchers. Health care workers won’t be able to come into work because their children are waiting for a COVID test result. We are already tapping into an exhausted health care sector and we only have so many trained staff available to test, contact trace, vaccinate, and treat. We need them for more than just COVID. And they are all tired. We are all tired.

In addition to our own individual behaviours, further restrictions are needed in our city to manage the situation. These discussions are currently underway.

Until enough of the population is protected – and this will take months – we need to do more to stop the spread of COVID.

We need to take a pause on indoor gatherings and dining indoors with people outside our household. We need to take a pause on outdoor gatherings where people are coming into close contact with others, such as barbecues and contact sports.

This weekend is the Easter long weekend. Do not gather with people you don’t live with except for essential caregivers or if you live alone. Do not gather with friends or extended family indoors. Do not share meals. Do find new ways to celebrate. The signs of spring that are starting to show. Do get outside. Focus on outdoor activities where you can maintain distance from others you don’t live with, and wear a mask. But please understand that while outdoors reduces the risk of transmission, it does not remove the risk entirely.

Ottawa, we will see this through. I am optimistic about what the summer will bring. But we aren’t there yet. We aren’t there yet.

The higher the rate of COVID in the community now, the longer it will take for vaccines to make an impact. For the next few months, we need to keep up with these measures. Thank you. Merci. Meegwetch.” – Dr. Vera Etches, Medical Officer of Health – Ottawa Public Health.