OPH seeks extra $24M for COVID-19 costs in 2021 budget

Ottawa Public Health (OPH) presented its draft 2021 budget to the city Monday evening, which included $24 million to cover multiple one-time COVID-related expenses atop a base budget of $74.1 million.

Dr. Vera Etches 'confident' province will cover extra funds

Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa's medical officer of health, said she is confident the province will cover the extra $24 million in estimated pandemic-related expenses in 2021. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Ottawa Public Health (OPH) says it needs an extra $24 million next year to continue to deal with the extraordinary workload it's taken on due to COVID-19.

The public health agency presented its draft 2021 budget to the city's Board of Health meeting Monday evening, which included a base budget of $74.1 million for its regular programs and that $24 million to cover multiple one-time COVID-related expenses.

"COVID[-19] will continue to be in our community for the year and we will continue to have to work hard to keep the level manageable," said Ottawa's medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches.

OPH told the board earlier this year it was expecting to spend an extra $12 million in 2020 because of the pandemic, expenses the province has indicated it will cover.

While the province and the city typically split OPH's budget 70-30, Etches told the board Monday night she is "confident" the province will cover the extra $24 million for 2021.

The city is providing an extra $1.16 million toward next year's OPH budget

COVID-19 expenses

Some of these extra costs are for handling outbreaks, communicating to residents, an emergency response phone line and contact tracing.

Contact tracing in particular has not only been a major financial cost, said OPH, but also time-consuming.

Until the end of September, OPH had been trying to contact everyone who'd tested positive for the virus and their close contacts. 

But as the number of cases surged, so did the time it took to reach out to those who were infected and OPH ultimately began to limit contact tracing to high-risk individuals. 

OPH said it routinely has upwards of 7,500 people who need daily follow-up at any one time. 

One item the budget doesn't include is the cost of administering a COVID-19 vaccine — if and when one becomes available — because OPH said any cost related to that is unknown. 

The budget will be presented to city council on Wednesday. 

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