Dozens call for Ottawa to go its own way with pandemic measures

Nearly two dozen public delegates spoke at a Monday night meeting, all asking for the same thing: that the city do more to protect essential workers and prioritize getting them vaccinated.

Board of health asking province to close more construction sites

Students work in the Algonquin College Centre for Construction Facility in August 2020. Ottawa's board of health says more construction sites could be closed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Dozens of residents are calling on Ottawa Public Health to do more to protect certain essential workers unable to work from home and get them vaccinated sooner.

Members of the Ottawa Board of Health passed a motion at a Monday evening meeting to ask Premier Doug Ford to review businesses and services that are still open with employees who cannot work from home.

The letter will ask that anything beyond medical, pharmacy or grocery services should close during the province's stay-at-home order, including certain construction projects.

"We have had outbreaks in construction sites and not all construction is essential, so I think that's a clear example where we can probably pare back the type of work that is happening that's leading to exposures," said Medical Officer of Health Dr. Vera Etches at the meeting.

The board also wants more power for bylaw officers to be able to enter, investigate and close businesses that are not complying with COVID-19 safety measures.

Changes should be led by province: Etches

But public delegates, including Sam Hersh of advocacy group Horizon Ottawa, said the city shouldn't be relying on the Ford government to make these changes.

"It is become utterly clear that the provincial government is completely incapable of managing this crisis and as a result, people are dying across our city and Ontario. It's incumbent on you to act," he said. 

"To be honest … It seems you've not been doing enough."

Under the Health Protection and Promotion Act, medical officers of health have the authority to close businesses to prevent the spread of disease.

However, when it comes to defining exactly what is essential or not essential, Etches said that was not her area of expertise.

Medical Officer of Health Dr. Vera Etches says COVID-19 case numbers continue to rise, even during the provincewide shutdown. (YouTube)

According to OPH's legal counsel, there are also "other legal issues, jurisdictional issues and every case has to be reviewed on a case-by-case basis."

Etches said the province has already done extensive legwork on defining essential businesses and services, which is why she believes they should take the lead on implementing stricter measures.

"I think there's a good chance that they will act on this", Etches said, given the serious growth in COVID-19 cases even since the shutdown was put in place early this month.

'Our strategy must change'

Dozens of public delegations also called for the vaccination of essential workers unable to work from home as another form of protection.

Emergency and protective services general manager Anthony Di Monte and Etches said in a statement earlier Monday younger essential workers who aren't in an eligible age group would likely get a first dose between mid-May and the end of June.

Etches said in the meeting the rollout in pharmacies is out of OPH's control, as the province targets its efforts on age. Ontario recently made people as young as age 40 eligible for the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine in pharmacies.

However, Etches said there's a possibility for the city's vaccination task force to get to essential workers through neighbourhood-based clinics which don't rely on the provincial registration system.

"We're at that point where we can now pivot and … our strategy must change," said Di Monte, but he added "the challenge of vaccine supply continues to haunt us."

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