Update from Dr. Vera Etches to Mayor Watson and Members of Council
Over the last several weeks, we have seen a decrease in the number of people testing positive for COVID-19. However, caution is needed in interpreting this trend. While the number of new outbreaks has decreased, the proportion of tests that are positive remains elevated and hospitalizations are continuing to occur. We need to continue to remind everyone to keep up the hard work of practicing the basics every day (physical distancing, mask wearing and proper hand hygiene).
Please find the below updates regarding the COVID-19 response in Ottawa.
Taking care with COVID-19 in the community
Last week, the Province announced a new framework that placed Ottawa in the “Restrict” phase. This past Saturday, Ottawa saw indoor dining in restaurants return and gyms, cinemas and casinos reopen, with certain measures in place. This is a positive step for our community, though we must proceed with caution. Opening venues increases the opportunity for COVID-19 transmission and the possibility of a rapid rise in the infection rate is always with us.
As we enter the second weekend with these reopenings, the important message to share with residents is that: We have to keep our guard up to keep COVID-19 levels down. Similar to how schools are able to be open with precautions in place, with the current level of COVID-19 in the community, businesses can open with proper precautions in place. This will help us manage COVID fatigue.
Residents are encouraged to connect with others by catching up with a friend or loved one outside their household, virtually, if at all possible. If residents do choose to meet in person, OPH would like to remind them to always maintain a physical distance of at least two metres, wear a mask and stay outdoors if possible.
The new provincial framework signals that Ontario is striving for a balanced approach to see us through this pandemic. It is not about getting over the next “wave”, but about finding sustainable ways to balance life while keeping COVID-19 transmission levels low in the community. Government regulations help protect people, but it is still up to everyone across all age groups and in every neighbourhood to act in a safer way when we go about our daily lives so we can keep the levels of COVID-19 down.
We are one million people strong and our individual actions – collectively – do make a difference.
Last week the Ontario government released the 2020 Budget, Ontario’s Action Plan: Protect, Support, Recover.As anticipated, the health care sector will be receiving an injection of funding as a part of the pandemic response with hospitals receiving the majority of funding. Some notable initiatives include:
- Increasing average daily direct care from a nurse or personal support worker (PSW) per long-term care resident to four hours a day over a four-year period;
- Making available $4 billion in 2021–22 and a further $2 billion in 2022–23 in dedicated support to protect people’s health and to support the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic; and
- Investing $60 million over three years starting in 2020–21 in the Black Youth Action Plan, doubling its base funding to extend the current program and create a new economic empowerment stream that will support Black youth in achieving social and economic success.
Remembrance Day Video
OPH honored our veterans and military members this November 11 by featuring those who have previously served who are now working at the City of Ottawa in a Remembrance Day video series. OPH would like to thank Councillor Matthew Luloff, Ottawa Paramedic Annoncia Guay Rouselle and Ottawa Fire Captain John Sobey for their participation.
This week, I informed members of Council that OPH has distributed all the doses of the high-dose trivalent (HD-TIV) vaccine for those 65 years old and older that were allotted to OPH for the 2020-2021 Universal Influenza Immunization Program. The Ministry of Health has also informed Ottawa Public Health (OPH) that Ontario has received 100% of its order for the high-dose trivalent inactivated vaccine for older adults and that all of the doses have been distributed by the Ontario Government Pharmaceutical and Medical Supply Service (OGPMSS). No additional doses of the high-dose trivalent vaccine are anticipated to be provided to OPH or other health units in Ontario at this time.
As a result, OPH is not able to fill any more order requests from local physicians for the high-dose vaccine and the HD-TIV will no longer be available in our community influenza immunization clinics. The vaccine may still be available in some pharmacies or from some physicians in limited quantities. Residents may wish to call their local pharmacy or health care provider to inquire about the availability of HD-TIV, though delaying vaccination is not recommended. Providing that the weekly provincial shipment of quadrivalent (QIV) vaccine continues without interruption, OPH clinics will remain open.
Please note each year the provincial government allots and distributes a specific number of doses of vaccine for health units to distribute. OPH is not an active participant in the procurement of the vaccines, as that occurs at the provincial and federal levels. The province is aware that we are aiming to vaccinate more people than in previous years and that the local demand for vaccine is high.
For your awareness, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization has stated that there is insufficient evidence to make a preferential recommendation between HD-TIV and QIV for people 65 years and older. Both vaccines are effective and recommended for seniors. The most important thing is for seniors to get the vaccine that is available in their location without delay.
For more information about influenza immunization, please refer to www.ottawapublichealth.ca/flu. Should you have questions regarding the provincial vaccine order please contact email@example.com. Thank you for your patience and for your ongoing support of Ottawa Public Health’s influenza immunization program.
Taking Care of Your Mental Health
As daylight hours get shorter, it is important to check in with ourselves and our loved ones to see how things are going and ensure we are practicing good coping skills to support our mental health. It is important to speak to one another about mental health – this can help us increase dialogue, knowledge, and help-seeking, while reducing stigma.
OPH encourages everyone to engage in activities that support mental wellness. For some this can mean getting back to good habits like getting enough sleep, being more active and eating well. For others, it can mean checking in with the many supports and professionals we have in town to talk about our mental health and ways to manage through these challenges.
Please note that the Counselling Connect service in Ottawa is available to residents who are seeking mental health supports. Should immediate support be required, we ask residents to reach out to the Ottawa Distress Centre at 613-238-3311 or the Crisis Line at 613-722-6914.
Overdoses and Harm Reduction strategies
Earlier this week, a new report from Public Health Ontario on Opioid-Related Deaths during the COVID-19 Pandemic found a 25 per cent increase in suspected drug-related deaths in Ontario between March and May 2020, compared to the monthly median reported in 2019.
While the data is still preliminary for Ottawa, we are seeing indications of similar trends. Our data is telling us that opioid-related emergency department visits at Ottawa hospitals have increased in 2020, exceeding those seen in 2019.
Researchers estimate there will be more than 2,200 opioid-related deaths in 2020 if the weekly rate of opioid deaths continues for the rest of the year. This would be the highest ever in Ontario, rising from 1,512 in 2019.
More information regarding preventing and responding to overdoses can be found on OPH’s website at StopOverdoseOttawa.ca.
Thank you for your continued support.
Dr. Vera Etches