April 22, 2021- Memo from Dr. Vera Etches, Medical Officer of Health
The purpose of this memo is to provide an update on the current situation in Ottawa, clarify that retail and restaurant curbside pickup is a low-risk activity supported by Ottawa Public Health, and outline Ottawa Board of Health recommendations to strengthen public health measures in workplaces to limit further transmission of COVID-19 in Ontario.
COVID-19 in Ottawa
The most recent epidemiological data confirms that the level of COVID-19 transmission in our community remains concerning and requires attention to transmission in workplaces to bend the curve. Younger people continue being admitted to hospital. Variants of concern are now established and make up the majority of the virus detected in Ottawa’s wastewater. Vaccines will not help the community reduce transmission in the immediate days and weeks.
We are all connected; what happens in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) is having a direct impact on the capacity of our hospitals as they are taking in transferred patients. The Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table’s recommendations to turn the curve in the GTA and Ontario highlight that the number of non-essential businesses open need to be reduced, especially where larger workplaces are seeing ongoing transmission.
Letter to the Province
On Tuesday, April 20, Councillor Keith Egli, Chair of the Board of Health wrote to the Premier of Ontario to request additional COVID-19 restrictions and enforcement in Ontario to reduce transmission of COVID-19 as directed by the Board of Health at its meeting on Monday, April 19 (The letter to the Province is attached to this memo). The letter requested the Province take the following time-sensitive actions:
- Complete an urgent review of all businesses and services that continue to have workers at the workplace who cannot work from home and implement changes to ensure that only businesses that provide groceries, medications and products or services essential for health and safety are open and only medically necessary care is provided for the period of the Stay-at-Home Order, and to provide information on income support options to workers affected by closed businesses.
- Amend language regarding school closure in Ontario Regulation 82/20 to replace “shall not provide in-person teaching or instruction” with “Schools shall be closed to all students except for […].” This change would provide greater clarity and ensure continued remote learning and that students are not attending school in person for activities that do not qualify as “in-person teaching or instruction.
- Specific to Ottawa, improve the enforcement provisions under the Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Response to COVID-19) Act 2020 and the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act to enhance enforcement officers’ ability to enter, investigate and close businesses in the rare instances when a business is not complying with public health requirements.
The Board of Health is asking the Province to review and adjust the provincewide essential business policy with a focus on addressing areas where COVID rates are still rising in Ontario. Throughout the province, workplaces continue to be locations where people come into close contact with others and where COVID-19 is transmitted. The goal of these recommendations is to prevent transmission by limiting the places where people come into close contact with others outside their household. This is consistent with what the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table called for earlier this week to bend the curve in areas like the Greater Toronto Area.
Ottawa Public Health has seen a concerning rise in members of our community testing positive in all types of workplaces. However, we are not seeing the same trends of large outbreaks in manufacturing and warehouse workplaces or the scale of outbreaks that other places like Toronto and Peel Region are experiencing.
Focus on prevention
The focus needs to continue to be on preventing COVID transmission in the first place. Once an outbreak occurs public health measures can only mitigate the number of people who are subsequently exposed.
Ottawa Public Health continues to collaborate with businesses to ensure staff and clients are protected, acknowledging this is a challenging time for workers. To better support workers, the Board of the Health in February requested the Province to require Ontario employers to provide paid sick leave to workers and provide financial supports to employers in providing such sick leave during infectious disease emergencies such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
A response from Provincial officials regarding the formal request by the Board of Health has not yet been received. The Board anticipates a response in the following days and will keep Mayor and Members of Council apprised of the response from the Province. Should the Province decide not to pursue the Board’s recommendations, Ottawa Public Health staff are preparing a Section 22 Order to better enable City by-law officers to enter and inspect businesses and to take action in the rare instances when a business is not complying with public health requirements.
Curbside pick-up is a low-risk practice
Following the letter to the Province, Ottawa Public Health has received inquiries regarding curbside pickup. The concern is not with transmission to clients via retail and restaurant curbside pickup which is a low-risk practice. The concern is transmission between co-workers and to protect workers who are at greater risk from large outbreaks.
In Ottawa, businesses are working hard to keep employees and clients safe. Existing instruction from the Medical Officer of Health requires businesses to inform OPH of situations where two people in a workplace test positive within 14 days. Ottawa Public Health’s experience is that workplaces are working well to manage outbreaks and OPH has the capacity to keep up with outbreak management.
Ottawa Public Health continues to monitor the situation locally and evaluate all possible options to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our communities. We ask all residents to renew their commitment to practicing the public health regulations for a few weeks longer. Please stay two meters away from others, wear a mask, wash your hands, stay home if you’re feeling unwell and get tested if you are feeling sick.
Letter to the ProvinceLetter-re-COVID-restrictions-and-enforcement
Version française page 2