Adapt holiday plans to meet Ottawa's rising COVID-19 risks, says Dr. Etches

Ottawa's Medical Officer of Health Dr. Vera Etches says people in the city should limit unmasked indoor contact this holiday season with people who are not fully vaccinated.

Ottawa also confirmed its 5th case of omicron variant on Thursday

‘Choose ways to make gatherings safer’ this holiday season, OPH says

10 months ago
Duration 1:11
Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa’s medical officer of health, says residents should consider the vaccination status of guests and keep masking and distancing when unvaccinated people are in attendance.

Ottawa's Medical Officer of Health Dr. Vera Etches says people in the city should limit unmasked indoor contact with people who are not fully vaccinated, including children newly eligible for vaccines, because of a "consistent and significant increase" in COVID-19 cases over the last week.

In a news conference held Thursday morning, Etches said "the risk is here now" and she hopes recommending caution can help the city avoid more restrictions for schools, businesses and gatherings.

Lower-risk gatherings and fewer extracurricular activities for children, who don't yet have two vaccine doses, are examples of limiting contacts.

Residents should also, when possible, gather outdoors, wear masks, distance, and try to limit mixing close contacts to lower the risk.

She said she wants people to adapt plans in the coming weeks rather than cancel them. If children ages five to 11 are on pace to be fully vaccinated in February, families can plan a larger gathering after that point.

"I know it feels like we missed out on a traditional holiday last year — this year is better, we are in a dramatically better position because of the vaccine and we must continue to practise safer behaviours," said Etches, while adding pandemic is not under control yet for people who don't have full vaccine protection.

Ottawa's Medical Officer of Health Dr. Vera Etches, centre, talks to a group that includes Coun. Keith Egli, left, at the site of a COVID-19 vaccine clinic for newly eligible children late last month. (Frédéric Pepin/Radio-Canada)

Etches called a recent increase in outbreaks "explosive" as COVID-19 has found its way into schools this week.

Later Thursday, Ottawa Public Health (OPH) reported eight more child-care outbreaks, and now 29 of its 34 active outbreaks are in schools or daycares.

Rapid COVID-19 tests are being used in two schools that just reopened after COVID-19 outbreaks and closures, said Etches, and OPH plans to bring the tests to 11 more areas where COVID spread is a concern.

Ottawa's case trends have been rising since the last week of November, approaching levels not seen since late spring.

Hospitalizations, which tend to lag behind cases, have slowly dropped and levels of the novel coronavirus in the city's wastewater have remained stable.

Nearly 90 per cent of residents eligible for a second vaccine dose have had one. More than 40 per cent of its recently eligible children have had a first dose — Etches said that could be the best rate in the province — and almost 69,000 residents have a third dose with another age expansion on Monday.

Ottawa also reported a fifth confirmed case of the omicron variant on Thursday and Etches said, like the first four, the person had been travelling.

She said people are braver and more resilient than they may realize and suggested trying to set time aside every day for things that can bring joy.


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