By Charlie Senack, Barrhaven Independent
With most COVID-19 restrictions gone, cases of the virus are increasing, and Ottawa Public Health is warning residents to prepare for another surge.
Experts say levels of the virus are rising “significantly” in Ottawa wastewater, and the current average is four times higher than before the Omicron surge in Dec. 2021.
The good news is we are still nowhere near the levels we saw this past January, and experts believe it won’t get that bad again.
In a statement sent out by Ottawa Public Health on March 24, Deputy Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brent Moloughney said while there is an increase in transmission, hospitalizations — for now at least — remain stable.
“Given the lifting of public health measures, increased mobility, social gatherings and the return to school following March Break, we can expect to continue to see evidence of increased transmission in the community,” he said. “The Ontario Science Table recently projected that while hospitalizations will likely increase this spring, the increase will be less than we experienced in January.”
Dr. Moloughney said Ottawa Public Health will continue to monitor key indicators, and will work with Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health “to assess and discuss potential options for Ottawa if key indicators shift in a concerning way.”
It comes after mask use became optional in most settings on March 21. In most businesses and schools around Barrhaven, it appears about 50 per cent have opted to keep masks on, whereas the other half are going without.
These numbers are similar to what health experts predicted around the province, and to what local school boards are reporting in their educational facilities.
But while mandatory mask mandates have been lifted, officials are making it known they could be reinstated if cases spike drastically, and could become a new normal during winter months.
Many health experts — including the Chief of Staff at CHEO — say masks should continue to be worn, especially in schools which have frequently reported outbreaks of COVID-19. This past December, Half Moon Bay Public School was forced to close after almost 70 staff and students became infected following an outbreak of the virus. Many classes in other Barrhaven schools were also forced to close after COVID-19 was transmitted among two or more students.
With PCR testing no longer being widely available — especially for the younger age group — school boards are no longer releasing data on how many confirmed cases are being reported among students and staff in their buildings.
The COVID-19 transmission dashboard by Ottawa Public Health has also not been updated since mid February, when Barrhaven ward reported a total of 3,462 cases of the virus in almost two years. Neighbouring Gloucester-South Nepean reported 3,408 cases during that same period.
Barrhaven and Riverside South have regularly topped the ranks for most cases in the city, sometimes reporting double the city average. It’s unclear whether or not this is still the case.
Dr. Moloughney is continuing to encourage mask use in public settings, to not only protect yourself, but others.
“While no longer required, considering that the level of COVID-19 in our community appears to be increasing, Ottawa Public Health continues to strongly recommend mask use for people at risk for severe illness, including their family and close contacts, and for everyone to consider masking in indoor settings when physical distancing may be difficult,” he said. “Please be kind and respectful of others’ choices, and please remember that wearing a mask is not just about protecting you, but also protecting those around you.”
Mandatory mask mandates in remaining settings including: on public transit, in hospitals, long-term care and retirement homes, shelters, and detention facilities, is currently expected to be lifted on April 27. However if trends continue to spike, that date could be extended.
It’s also believed that large events where masks aren’t worn could become super spreader events. About 12,000 people attended a Justin Bieber concert in Ottawa on Sunday, rescheduled twice due to the pandemic. The night prior, thousands flocked to an Ottawa Senators game, where many were not seen with a face covering.
The BA.2 subvariant of Omicron, believed to be even more contagious, is making the situation worse, meaning more and more people are becoming infected with the virus. At a time when up to one in four are battling with long COVID symptoms, there are no signs as to when or how it might end.