'We can make it through': OPH optimistic about another fall with COVID-19

·3 min read
Ottawa's French-language school boards began classes this week, while the English boards begin next week. (Francis Ferland/CBC - image credit)
Ottawa's French-language school boards began classes this week, while the English boards begin next week. (Francis Ferland/CBC - image credit)

Case counts have risen and the delta variant of COVID-19 threatens a fourth pandemic wave, but Ottawa's medical officer of health remains optimistic the city can keep things under control this fall as children head back to school.

Dr. Vera Etches said Ottawa "bucked the trend" in the fall of 2020 when it kept COVID-19 rates down.

Along with the vaccine, residents can do it again if they keep taking basic steps such as wearing masks and limiting gatherings, Etches told reporters Thursday.

"This is a stressful time with the start of school and more requirements, and I know that we can make it through this," she said.

The situation has changed in the past 12 months, she noted. Last September there was no vaccine and older adults were at higher risk of serious illness.

The vaccine has been effective as Ottawa has not reported a COVID-related death in almost two months, according to the public dashboard.

New provincial models also show, as of Aug. 27, an Ottawa resident who is unvaccinated is 15 times more likely to contract the virus than someone who is not, said Etches.

Vaccine uptake increased after passport announcement

The focus now is to "be kind" to those who have not yet received their vaccine and help them overcome the barriers to doing so, she added.

As of Wednesday, 79 per cent of those born in 2009 or earlier are fully vaccinated, while 69 per cent of Ottawa's total population, including children who are not yet eligible for a vaccine, have both doses.

If the city continues at its current pace, Ottawa could hit a long-stated goal of having 90 per cent of the population fully vaccinated by mid-October, Etches said, which would be a bit late because modelling shows a resurgence of the virus could arrive by the third week of September.

There was some good news on the vaccine front this week as Ontario saw a boost in appointments after announcing its plan for a vaccine passport, according to the health minister.

Employers urged to adopt vaccination policies

To boost vaccination levels, and ensure workplaces stay safe, Ottawa Public Health also wants all employers to enact policies that urge their workers to be fully vaccinated.

The health unit has published guidelines businesses can use, based on its own policy, which includes setting a date by which a worker must show proof of vaccination or provide a legitimate medical exemption.

Some local businesses are worried about interactions their staff could have with the unvaccinated public, but Etches reassured business owners they're not being asked to police customers, as they did when masks became mandatory.

"I'm asking people to be kind. ... It does require patience as businesses figure out how to do this," said Etches.

Back to class

Vaccination levels in the community will be a key factor for what happens as tens of thousands of children head back to class this week and next, and public health officials will monitor the situation closely.

This fall, Etches says she is even more convinced students need to attend in person, and far fewer have opted to stay home and learn virtually.

"We had more and more evidence grow over the course of last year about the harms that are done when children don't have the opportunity to be in school and in person," Etches said.

Francis Ferland/CBC
Francis Ferland/CBC

Families should screen for the virus daily, officials say, and children and parents must remain home and seek a COVID-19 test if they have a fever or chills, a cough or barking cough, shortness of breath, or lose their sense of taste or smell.

Take-home tests will also roll out across many local schools this year to make testing easier.

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