Etches Encourages Mask Use Amid Rising COVID-19 Wave

By Charlie Senack, Barrhaven Independent

Ottawa’s top Doctor Vera Etches is sounding the alarm over the city’s seventh COVID wave as cases climb to levels not seen before. 

Under the first two pandemic summers, cases remained relatively low in the summer months. But trends are heading in a different direction this year with almost no restrictions in place and large events making a comeback. 

“I am concerned about this current wave. We are noting very high levels of COVID-19 in our wastewater and week after week this has been increasing,” Etches wrote in a statement. “Our test percent positivity is also very high and increasing and our COVID-19 hospitalizations and confirmed outbreaks are both increasing as well. This is indicative that the level of COVID-19 is very high in Ottawa right now, higher than the January Omicron wave.”

As COVID-19 variants, such as Omicron, mutate, the strains are becoming more contagious. And because the new strains are different from previous ones, Etches says people can’t rely on future infections for immunity. Some people are now testing positive again three weeks after their last infection. 

Etches says as cases climb, people’s behaviours need to change with it. 

“This is an important skill we will all need as we head into the fall. Wearing masks indoors and outdoors in crowded spaces, staying home when sick, getting booster doses, and minimizing contacts during periods of high transmission in the community are all behaviours that will help us, our families, and our loved ones,” she said. “Individual actions help influence community impact.”

The pandemic is far from over, noted Etches, however there is some good news to report: severe illness and hospitalizations are remaining lower than what has been seen in previous waves. Even so, Ottawa’s top medical doctor said we need to remain mindful of older residents and those with chronic health issues. 

Almost all Ottawa residents are now eligible for a fourth shot, however many people have still not rolled up their sleeves. Ottawa Public Health says 25,000 Ottawa residents over the age of 60 have yet to access their third dose, and over 88,000 still require their fourth dose. Two doses are still considered fully vaccinated, whereas the third and fourth doses are characterized as boosters. A possible fifth dose, which will provide better immunity to new variants, is expected this fall. 

Waste water levels indicating a higher level of infection in Ottawa shouldn’t come as a surprise. Many people have reported testing positive after attending BluesFest at LeBreton flats. 

Ottawa Public Health is continuing to warn people to stay at home when sick and take a test if you’re feeling unwell. The province of Ontario has announced they will continue their rapid testing program until the end of the year. 

As for businesses, the city’s health unit is encouraging them to bring back mandatory masking policies and display signage encouraging people to stay six feet apart from others, especially when indoors. 

But despite the calls to enhance safety procedures, Ottawa Public Health has no plans of putting in place a mandatory masking policy, at least not for now. 

“Together we can make a difference on the impact of COVID-19 in our community,” said Etches. “The decisions we make today will help us all tomorrow.”