Special Statement from Dr. Etches – March 9, 2022

Hello. Bonjour. Kwey.

Today, the Province announced the next steps to ease public health measures in Ontario, which includes upcoming changes to mask requirements in public spaces and schools, expanded eligibility for testing in high-risk settings, and changes to the isolation guidance.   I recognize that many of us may need time to adjust to these upcoming changes and it is important to have conversations and take it slow. I encourage parents, guardians, and caregivers to continue with the layers of protection that make them feel at ease and which can continue to decrease COVID-19 transmission, including masking. It is important to show respect for others and their individual choices, based on their own assessment of their risk – or the risk to a loved one.

I am encouraged to see that masking in some settings – including transit, healthcare settings, long-term care homes and congregate settings – will remain in place for some time. As I have indicated previously, it is important that we approach each step towards fewer measures with caution and allow enough time between each step to monitor how the easing of public health measures is impacting our COVID-19 monitoring indicators.

Locally, we are closely watching our monitoring indicators. We’ve seen a gradual decrease in our COVID-19 wastewater levels, which have been stabilizing from mid-February, our hospitalizations due to COVID-19 have dropped and, are stable, as are COVID-19 outbreaks. While these trends are encouraging, we have also observed an increase in the percent positivity rate, which may be affected by low levels of testing. We will continue to monitor and report on these and other indicators. It is important to know that while monitoring indicators are predominantly improving, COVID-19 is still present in our community at a relatively high level. There is still risk of exposure, transmission, and infection. For some individuals and their families, the risk of complications and severe outcomes from COVID-19 is greater than others.

As public health measures continue to be lifted, it will become increasingly important for individuals to assess their own level of risk, and the risk of those they live and interact with. We are shifting to a space where individuals and their families must choose how to, rather than be mandated, to best protect themselves. This will include the decision to wear a mask in indoor or shared spaces. 

Some people who are at higher risk include older adults, as well as those with certain medical conditions. When assessing risk, we look to the “3 C’s”: crowded spaces, close contact (with close conversation), and confined and enclosed spaces with poor ventilation. Ways to reduce risk of exposure and infection include monitoring for symptoms, staying home when sick, being vaccinated, masking, meeting outdoors, limiting the size of gatherings, and improving ventilation.  To support you in assessing risk and making the best decision for you and your family, Ottawa Public Health has launched a new webpage:OttawaPublicHealth.ca/RiskReduction. This new webpage provides important information to help you and your family assess your level of risk of severe outcomes and choose your layers of protection accordingly. For those who may suspect they have COVID-19, care clinics in Ottawa continue to provide assessment, testing if eligible, and timely access to COVID-19 treatment – for more information on treatment and how to access testing please visit: OttawaPublicHealth.ca/COVIDTesting.

While Ottawa is seeing good vaccine coverage rates, many residents still have not received their third dose. More than ever, it is crucial that residents, especially those over the age of 50, get vaccinated with three doses of a COVID-19 vaccine to maximize their protection against serious illness, complications and death from COVID-19. Ensuring our community maintains adequate levels of immunity is also crucial to maintaining health care system and hospital capacity.

We have said previously that we must learn to live with COVID-19 in the community. This does not mean that the pandemic is over, it means being mindful of the virus’ presence in our day-to-day lives. Ottawa Public Health will continue to closely monitor COVID-19 indicators and we will continue working with community partners to support people at higher risk of serious outcomes from COVID-19.  We are also working with local school boards and child care partners to support them with these changes, understanding that parents and caregivers may have concerns for their child’s safety.

Recognizing that employers and workplaces will be impacted by these changes, I would encourage employers to maintain masking as an occupational health and safety measure as we monitor COVID-19 activity in the community. Like individuals, employers and their employees are encouraged to assess their level of risk and that of their clients and mitigate where possible.

As per the provincial regulations, I am not able to issue Letters of Instruction to implement local measures. Further, I cannot require masking in schools or workplaces. Ottawa Public Health and I will continue working with Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Kieran Moore, to assess options should key indicators, including hospitalizations, start trending upward in a concerning way. We can continue to make progress if we keep doing what we know has protected our community from COVID-19.

While this feels like a time of change, we can continue doing things that will keep our loved ones protected. We can keep wearing our masks, we can keep our distance when needed, we will stay home if we’re sick and we can get our third doses of vaccine.

Our community has been through a lot over the past two years, and the first months of 2022 have proven challenging. You may find yourself feeling more affected by the events that happen around you, more than you used to be. You may be experiencing feelings of uncertainty and worry as public health measures are lifted – this is understandable, and normal. You and your family have likely been through a lot.

As we move forward, be sure to check in on one another. Text or call someone, offer some kind words and see if they need anything. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, be sure to reach out to friends and family. Community resources are also available to support with mental health during this time, learn more by visiting OttawaPublicHealth.ca/COVIDMentalHealth.

It is going to take time for us to get used to what lies ahead – assessing our risks and choosing our layers of protection accordingly. It is important that we respect and support each other during this time of change and transition. What may be lower risk for one, is a higher risk for another. Kindness and understanding will get us through this next chapter.

Thank you. Merci. Meegwetch.

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