December 16th

Ottawa, this is a bittersweet day, and there is a lot to unpack.

As the Chair mentioned, we just passed the one-year anniversary of the first vaccine given in Ottawa and we have accomplished a colossal feat since then. That deserves to be recognized, and I am incredibly proud of what we – you – have accomplished. Vaccination has saved lives and prevented hospitalizations and it is continuing to do so  

At the same time, we are dealing with a new obstacle – the Omicron variant.

At this point, it is safe to assume that the more transmissible Omicron variant is quickly becoming the dominant strain of COVID-19 in Ottawa. While we await more data about the virulence of this variant, we know that it will put a significant burden on our health care system.

Data shows that Omicron is significantly more transmissible than other variants, including Delta. It is putting our unvaccinated and partially vaccinated populations at risk.

The rapid difference Omicron is making is already being reflected with our case management. As announced earlier this week, our case management team is over capacity, meaning people who test positive for COVID-19 may experience delays in hearing from Ottawa Public Health. As such, we are asking individuals who test positive to notify their high-risk contacts to advise them that they may have been exposed to COVID-19. If you are a high-risk contact of someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, please isolate immediately and seek testing, regardless of your vaccination status. Updated information regarding testing and isolation can be found on our website.

And after consulting our provincial partners and fellow public health leaders, we have made the decision as a City to reactivate the City of Ottawa Emergency Operations Centre. What this means locally is under active discussion, but know this: we are working around the clock to deliver solutions, and this work will not stop.

With yesterday’s announcement from the province on expanding eligibility for a third dose of the COVID vaccine to all adults 18 and older, and a shorter dose interval for third dose, we will continue to ramp up efforts to be able to vaccinate as many people as possible, as quickly as possible. For Ottawa, this means 750,000 people – three quarters of our population – will be eligible for a third dose as of Monday. While this is a massive undertaking, we’ve done it before and we will do it again.

I know there has been some frustration among those who are currently eligible when it comes to booking appointments; I want to assure you that we are doing everything we can and we are continuing to explore options to open more appointments, increase capacity and vaccinate everyone who is eligible as soon as possible.  This means working with hospital partners to pull in additional clinical staff to provide vaccinations, temporarily reducing public health programs like our mental health and substance use health work and home visits for new parents. It’s not ideal, but that is how critical this work is right now.  

Over the last week, we have managed to double our vaccination capacity, and are continuing to work with partners to grow. I am happy to announce we have added an additional vaccination site at the EY Centre to accommodate up to 2,700 people per day, doubling our daily capacity for this weekend..  This afternoon, Ottawa Public Health released 10,600 appointments at the EY Centre and the Nepean Sportsplex Curling Rink, with appointments beginning this Saturday, December 18.

I know it may take some time to get your booster dose. Please follow Ottawa Public Health’s social media accounts for the latest information on our increased capacity and availability for appointments. For information on how to book your first, second or third dose, please visit our website.

I want to remind residents that we still have a lot of control when it comes to doing our part to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19. These are the things we have become all too used to over the last two years, and I do look forward to the day when this is no longer part of my updates. But for now, we must continue with limiting close contacts, wearing masks, maintaining physical distance and washing our hands regularly. Stay home when sick except to get tested.

Measures to limit close contacts through capacity limits are also going to be needed… we understand the province is actively considering what to implement. The Science Table and the Council of Medical Officers of Health have made it clear this week that action is needed as soon as possible. With respect to testing, many parents have come to us asking for a bit of clarity on the use of Rapid Antigen Tests in schools and over the holidays. The current use of Rapid Antigen Tests in schools is a program that is stood up whenever there is an outbreak that occurs as an added layer of screening, especially considering not everyone is fully vaccinated just yet in school settings like elementary schools. There is also a Rapid Antigen Testing program that is being rolled out and overseen by the Ontario Ministry of Education during the holidays in direct partnership with the school boards, which does not involve Ottawa Public Health. These tests are intended to be used multiple times over the course of the school holidays to screen for COVID-19. Some businesses are also making use of the supply available through the Ottawa Board of Trade. If your Rapid Antigen Test is positive, seek a confirmatory PCR test at an assessment centre right away. Testing approaches may need to change as the system capacity stretches and may reach a limit.

And as always, it is critical to remain isolated until you receive a negative COVID-19 result through the Province of Ontario’s results portal or the relevant hospital’s results portal

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This pandemic has been long. And it will go on for a little while longer. But please, just as much as I want you to get a COVID-19 vaccine, I also want you to be kind to yourself. To check-in with your friends and family, and take care of your mental health Please visit OttawaPublicHealth.ca/MentalHealth for a list of resources that could be made available to you.

Now is not the time to give up. We are in a better position than in March of 2020 when we faced a surge of COVID-19 in an unimmunized population without knowledge of all the measures that can limit COVID-19 transmission. Vaccination is building and will keep putting us in a better place to face future challenges. We can look forward to everyone having restored vaccine effectiveness against the Omicron variant with third doses and children with two doses in the very near future. Just not fast enough to enable us to gather, as usual, over the holidays. Your actions make a difference. Vos actions font une différence. And we will battle our way through this surge.

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