Ottawa COVID-19 levels ‘manageable,’ can ‘absolutely’ avoid fall lockdown: Dr. Etches

COVID-19 levels are rising in Ottawa, but the city’s top doctor remains confident that the city’s current precautions and gradually growing vaccination levels will be sufficient to avoid another economic lockdown heading into the fall.

Dr. Vera Etches, medical officer of health, and other Ottawa health officials spoke to media Thursday morning to provide an update on COVID-19 in the nation’s capital.

COVID-19 case counts have been on the rise in recent weeks, with 39 new cases added on Thursday alone.

Etches said that Ottawa, along with the rest of the province, is facing higher viral levels amid a Delta variant-driven fourth wave.

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While provincial modelling released this week shows the fourth wave could be “substantial” in Ontario, Etches was optimistic Thursday that viral levels could be kept under control locally as kids start heading back to the classrooms.

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Both Etches and Coun. Keith Egli, chair of the Ottawa Board of Health, included limiting indoor gathering sizes as a good idea for residents heading into the fall, alongside the other standard public health measures such as wearing a mask and physical distancing.

When asked whether she’d like to see a return to indoor capacity limits, Etches said those steps aren’t necessary yet but added health officials would monitor the situation going into the fall.

“At this point, in Ottawa, the COVID situation is manageable. We have the tools,” she said, adding that it’s “absolutely” possible to avoid an economic lockdown in the fall.

Etches also expressed her support for Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccination passport plan, announced Wednesday.

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She said that after the policy was announced, which stated that proof of vaccination will be required to enter non-essential businesses across the province starting Sept. 22, OPH saw a “significant” boost in vaccine appointment bookings.

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OPH later told Global News that, compared to the average 307 daily bookings logged in the system at the start of the week, the past 24 hours have seen 607 new vaccine appointments made in Ottawa in addition to the 544 walk-ins Wednesday.

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Etches said that, given the current uptake, she expects to hit her 90-per-cent goal for fully vaccinated Ottawans by mid-October.

“That’s a bit late, when you compare it to the modeling from the Ontario Science Table. The resurgence is likely going to be here in the third week of September or so,” she said.

As of Wednesday, 86 per cent of eligible Ottawa residents aged 12 and older have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Some 80 per cent of adults in the city have received two doses.

OPH released a guide for local businesses on Thursday looking to set their own vaccine policies; the local health unit’s own policy will see all employees expected to be fully vaccinated as of Oct. 15.

Read more: COVID-19: Ottawa-Carleton board passes staff vaccine mandate, first shots due by Sept. 30

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Etches said OPH’s strategy of setting up neighbourhood hubs and going door-to-door in communities experiencing lower rates of vaccination is already bearing fruit.

Some neighbourhoods are reporting increases in vaccination rates of up to nine per cent since the health unit shifted its approach from mass vaccination to a more targeted strategy, Etches said Thursday.

“We have seen the progress. I think it is really encouraging. People are still coming forward for first doses,” she said.

While the proportion of unvaccinated residents in Ottawa is slowly eroding, Etches still urged residents to be kind to those who haven’t gotten the shot yet. She noted that many people living in vulnerable communities face barriers and disinformation when it comes to getting vaccinated.

“We need to show kindness to people who are not vaccinated yet,” she said.” We need to support each other.”

Meanwhile, the latest data from OPH continues to show the stark difference in infection risk between the unvaccinated and vaccinated.

Between July 24 and Aug. 27, Ottawa’s unvaccinated population reported a COVID-19 infection rate of 41.7 cases per 100,000 people. Over the same period, fully vaccinated residents had a rate of 2.7 per 100,000, about 15 times lower.

As of Thursday, there were eight people in hospital with COVID-19 locally and one person in the intensive care unit.

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