Mayor weighs in on 'disappointing' outbreak tied to paramedics gathering

·3 min read
Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson is seen here during an announcement in December 2020. On Wednesday, the mayor said he was disappointed to learn about the Ottawa Paramedic Service COVID-19 outbreak that has been linked to an off-duty social gathering.  (Francis Ferland/CBC - image credit)
Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson is seen here during an announcement in December 2020. On Wednesday, the mayor said he was disappointed to learn about the Ottawa Paramedic Service COVID-19 outbreak that has been linked to an off-duty social gathering. (Francis Ferland/CBC - image credit)

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson says it was "extremely disappointing and frustrating" to learn of a COVID-19 outbreak at the Ottawa Paramedic Service, linked to a recent social gathering.

"I always considered our paramedics to be some of the best in the country," Watson said in his opening remarks during the city's COVID-19 media briefing on Wednesday.

"The speed and ease at which this virus spread throughout the paramedic service shows just how tenacious and damaging the virus can be."

The Ottawa Paramedic Service says 130 of its staff attended the gathering and are considered high-risk contacts in the outbreak. Watson says the service is still working with Ottawa Public Health to identify additional close contacts.

On Tuesday, the City of Ottawa publicly released a memo from paramedic chief Pierre Poirier acknowledging a Dec. 15 gathering among staff, later confirmed to have taken place at a restaurant. One member tested positive for COVID-19 three days later.

By the time of the memo's release, the Ottawa Paramedic Service knew of 30 infected staff and 93 patients were considered close contacts to staff "who were asymptomatic at the time of exposure and had not received positive COVID-19 results."

In another memo Wednesday evening, Poirier said six more staff had tested positive, bringing the total number of staff to 36 and the number of patients at moderate risk to 105.

It remains unclear if any patients treated by paramedics who were at the gathering have tested positive too, though the service has said the risk of exposure is low to moderate because "members of our service follow strict infection control and personal protective equipment (PPE) protocols."

Emilien Juteau/CBC
Emilien Juteau/CBC

Poirier was not available for an interview Wednesday but issued a followup statement via email. He said both paramedics and support staff have tested positive.

He pointed out that under Ontario's COVID-19 rules, a worker considered a high-risk contact could return to work if they remained asymptomatic, completed regular testing and are negative on all tests.

"Ottawa Paramedic Service currently has enough capacity to meet operational requirements," Poirier added later in the day. "We continue to monitor the impacts to the service delivery of the Ottawa Paramedic Service and will implement further contingency plans as required."

'Hope they all pull through'

The professional association that represents paramedics in Ottawa also weighed in on the outbreak.

President Darryl Wilton said the association neither advertised nor "operated" the event and has stopped holding all in-person meetings and social gatherings, including golf and hockey tournaments, since Ontario first declared a state of emergency over COVID-19 in March 2020.

"That remains unchanged," reads Wilton's statement. "We have refused to hold any and all in-person gatherings until the pandemic is over."

Sandra Abma/CBC
Sandra Abma/CBC

Wilton said it's been "terrible and frightening" to see reports of patients or paramedics anywhere becoming infected with COVID.

"We sincerely hope they all pull through and don't suffer any serious complications," he said.

CBC News also contacted CUPE Local 503, which represents Ottawa paramedics, and did not receive a response.

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