Special Statement from Dr. Etches

  • Community Update

Today, we are reporting 93 new COVID-19 cases, the highest number of new cases in a single day since April.

The overall goals of our response to the pandemic are to prevent the level of COVID-19 transmission in Ottawa from disrupting society detrimentally and to prevent hospitalizations and deaths.  This level of virus in our community is too high for these purposes.  The people testing positive for COVID-19 linked to schools and long-term care homes is leading to disruption for families and workplaces and to deaths in at least one long-term care home at this point. We need to bend the curve down now. 

Many of the people testing positive are in the 20 to 39 age group, and we are seeing more school-aged children test positive with their exposures in the community.  Forty percent of people aged 20 to 39 who became ill in recent weeks acquired COVID-19 while in close contact with someone outside their household. Common examples including indoor social gatherings such as parties, gatherings at cottages and Airbnbs, and outdoor gatherings where people are close together.

In light of the increase in community transmission, and in light of recent situations with slow adherence to public health guidance, I am officially invoking a Class Section 22 Order under the Health Protection and Promotion Act that stipulates that any person that tests positive for COVID-19, has signs and symptoms of COVID-19, is a close contact of someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, has been tested for COVID-19 and awaiting a test result or otherwise has reasonable grounds to believe they have COVID-19 must self-isolate without delay. These individuals must remain in isolation for 14 days, unless COVID-19 is ruled out, and they must do everything they can to avoid exposing other people to COVID-19. 

Failure to comply with this Order could result in a fine of up to $5,000.00 for every day or part of each day on which the offence occurs or continues. While we have issued individual Section 22 orders previously to facilitate obtaining a list of close contacts, we have not had to take anyone to court.  When people understand we have the authority to collect this information, we protect their privacy when reaching out to contacts, and we are here to support them and protect the community, we have received the information we need.  Because the numbers of people we are working with has increased so much, a class order will support timely escalation when needed. 

Details of this order can be found on our website

I don’t take these types of decisions lightly; however, I must do everything possible to reduce the transmission that is currently occurring in Ottawa. We must once again plank the curve through our actions and this order is another intervention that targets the increasing non-adherence with the basic prevention measures such as staying home when you have symptoms. Self-isolation of ill people ensures that the virus will not be passed on to others. 

As of today, there have been 34 schools in Ottawa that have had an individual that tested positive for COVID-19 while they attended the schools setting. And, we are reporting our second outbreak in a school.  

Ottawa Public Health continues to work closely with the school principals and is reaching out to close contacts directly to provide direction on isolation and instruction on testing, including information on how and when to get tested for COVID-19. Only people contacted by OPH should seek testing.  

Residents of Ottawa must continue to do their part to keep transmission in the community low to help stop COVID-19 from entering schools and long-term care homes in the first place. We have seen how one gathering can result in many individuals testing positive for COVID-19, and over 100 people needing to isolate and present for testing. Keep your close contacts to members of your household and essential supports, like grandparents or childcare providers or important friends or neighbours.  Visiting with others must be with distance and masks when indoors or unable to distance.

I understand the frustration and anxiety parents and school staff are facing when it comes to our schools and whether to keep them open.  We have a collective goal to keep them open.

Closing schools would have a significant, negative impact on the community.  As I have said since this summer, we need to balance the risk of COVID-19 transmission with mitigating other harms to the well-being of children, youth, families, school staff and the broader community. We are all impacted when people cannot rely on schools to support childhood development and economic activity as we usually have.  

I want to assure parents that the OPH school team and infection prevention and control team are debriefing with school boards to continuously improve the response.  We continue to collaborate with local school boards and organizations to implement provincial standards and guidance. Alongside our school board partners, OPH is addressing ongoing questions and concerns of families, school staff and students regarding COVID-19, ensuring we provide the most current information possible.  To date, we have received very positive feedback about the school nurses from all four school boards, as these nurses deal with a myriad of questions from school principals, teachers, staff and parents. 

More information on how OPH is supporting schools can be found on our website

Part of the challenge to families right now is the limited access to testing for symptomatic children and the time it takes to get the result.  I am recommending that local testing partners establish a coordinated communications approach, including a centralized website in support of their operations, in order to provide up-to-date information such as locations of testing facilities, hours of operation, and contact information for residents who have questions or concerns. We are also recommending expanded hours of operation to 12hrs/day, 7 days a week, with additional testing capacity going to schools, supporting existing testing sites, responding to neighbourhood clusters identified through epidemiological data, and expanding access across the geography of our large city. 

However, simply increasing the number of swabs taken is now leading to delays of up to a week for results. This is why I am asking that priority be given to people with symptoms and referral from public health.  

To the parents of Ottawa: I hear you. We are still in the early days and we are still learning about keeping COVID out of schools. But we know one thing for sure: we must keep levels of COVID-19 transmission low at the community level to keep it out of schools and long-term care homes, to limit societal disruption and deaths.

We are in this together. Together we will make it through this time of stress and uncertainty with a focus on keeping each other as safe as possible.