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COVID-19: 8,000 vaccine appointments added in Ottawa; visits paused at long-term care homes


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Ottawa Public Health shared an important announcement for the un-boosted and unvaccinated Tuesday night: 8,000 vaccine appointments had been added to the city’s clinics.

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As always, those looking to book can do so through the provincial online portal or phone line at 1-833-943-3900.

Meanwhile, Ontario announced it’s pausing visits to long-term care homes starting Thursday, as the Omicron variant tears through communities.

In addition, residents, for the time being, will not be allowed to take day outings for social reasons.

“We know that long-term care residents face an increased risk of COVID-19. Given the high community infection rates we’re seeing with the Omicron variant, the time for more action is now,” Long-Term Care Minister Rod Phillips said in a statement.

“In addition to the steps we’ve already taken, these new temporary measures will help keep residents safe and help critical staff remain on the job.”

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Designated caregivers will continue to be allowed inside LTC homes, as will visitors for residents in palliative situations.  

Phillips said the province is “fundamentally taking a different approach,” compared to the LTC lockdown seen early in the pandemic, when isolation from loved ones took an enormous toll on residents.  

“I think there was a lot of good advice from medical professionals, but more importantly from families,” said Phillips, noting that there are 45,000 caregivers across Ontario designated by residents to provide support who the province is allowing to continue doing so, provided they’re vaccinated.  

Having consulted with Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, Phillips said Dr. Kieran Moore believes the steps announced Tuesday are commensurate with the risk in the community.

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There are currently 41 Ontario LTC homes in outbreak status (a status that can include as few as two COVID-19 cases, or many more).

Vivian Stamatopoulos, a prominent long-term care advocate and associate teaching professor at Ontario Tech University, tweeted in response to Phillips’s announcement that she was glad to see essential caregivers would still be allowed access to residents, but that booster coverage in LTC homes remains too low.

The province says 84 per cent of eligible residents and 43 per cent of eligible staff had received a third dose as of Dec. 22.

According to Phillips, this level of booster coverage is the highest in the country (this newspaper has asked for the numbers behind this), and Ontario is working with labour organizations, LTC home operators, public health units and other partners to increase coverage.  

Long-term care staff and caregivers became eligible for boosters in early November, while the province started rolling out third doses to LTC residents in August.

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There are currently five ongoing outbreaks in Ottawa LTC homes: Extendicare New Orchard Lodge (one staff case); Peter D. Clark (four staff cases, two resident/visitor cases); The Glebe Centre (three staff cases, one resident/visitor case); Extendicare Starwood (three staff cases, two resident/visitor cases); and St. Patrick’s Home (21 staff cases, 13 resident/visitor cases).

St. Patrick’s is the only ongoing LTC home outbreak with a reported death: one resident or visitor. The outbreak started Nov. 17, while the others began within the last ten days.

Ontario logged 8,825 new cases of COVID-19 in the last day, Health Minister Christine Elliott tweeted Tuesday morning.

While the provincial COVID-19 data portal isn’t being updated between Dec. 25 and 28, Elliott has continued tweeting some high-level COVID numbers daily.

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The seven-day average for daily cases reported in Ontario is now 8,318.

Ontario reported 9,418 new cases Monday, 9,826 on Sunday and 10,412 cases on Saturday.

COVID-19 hospitalizations totalled 491, up from 480 the previous day and 412 a week ago. There are 187 people in ICU due to the disease, an increase of 11 patients from Monday’s total. The seven-day average for people in ICU is 171.

More than 144,000 vaccine doses were administered Monday, Elliott said.

Ontario health officials are studying new guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shortening the recommended isolation time for Americans without symptoms after testing positive for COVID-19 from 10 days to five, followed by another five days of mask-wearing around others.

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“The change is motivated by science demonstrating that the majority of SARS-CoV-2 transmission occurs early in the course of illness, generally in the 1-2 days prior to onset of symptoms and the 2-3 days after,” the CDC stated in a news release.

The CDC is also now recommending changed to rules for those who have been exposed to COVID-19. The new recommendation is five days of quarantine and five days of strict mask use for people exposed to COVID-19 who aren’t vaccinated or who are at least six months past their second dose. If quarantine isn’t feasible, it’s critical that the person wears a well-fitting mask for 10 days after exposure, said the CDC.

Those who’ve been boosted don’t need to quarantine after an exposure, but should mask for 10 days after, the CDC recommends. It’s also best practice for anyone exposed to get a test five days after exposure, the CDC states. And if symptoms show up, the person should immediately quarantine until COVID-19 can be ruled out with a negative test result.

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In CDC parlance, isolation refers to behaviour after a confirmed infection, while quarantine refers to time following exposure to COVID-19 or close contact with someone who has it.

“CDC’s updated recommendations for isolation and quarantine balance what we know about the spread of the virus and the protection provided by vaccination and booster doses,” said CDC Director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky in a statement. “These updates ensure people can safely continue their daily lives.”

Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore had scheduled a news conference for Tuesday afternoon to make an announcement about updated case and contact management as well as testing guidance for Ontario, but it was postponed earlier in the day.

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Health minister spokesperson Alexandra Hilkene said Moore’s office as well as Public Health Ontario are comparing the new CDC guidance on isolation and quarantine periods with Ontario-specific evidence, and that Moore would provide an update later this week.

At his last media conference on Dec. 21, Moore warned that changes might be needed to case and contact management and that priority for rapid tests if they are still in short supply would be given to essential workers.

He suggested that asymptomatic health-care workers who have been in close contact with someone who  has COVID-19 may be offered daily rapid tests instead of being ordered to isolate in order to counter expected staffing shortages.

In Ottawa, PCR testing sites have already been prioritizing health-care workers to try to prevent staff shortages.

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Because access to PCR testing has been constrained, it’s possible that not everyone who suspects they may have COVID-19 will actually be able to get PCR-tested and captured in the data being reported.

Public Health Ontario has warned that case information is being underreported and to interpret their data with caution, following the Omicron-fuelled surge of infections and increased demand for limited testing capacity in the province.

People in Ottawa who test positive for the virus are being asked to notify close contacts themselves because contact tracing is also backlogged.

Residents have been advised to isolate themselves for 10 days if they have any COVID-19 symptoms or test positive on a rapid antigen or PCR test. The usual advice is to confirm the rapid test result with a more sensitive PCR test available at assessment centres, but it’s difficult to find an appointment because of demand.

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COVID-19 in Ottawa

Ottawa Public Health reported 424 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday, bringing the number of active cases among local residents to 5,287.

It’s the first 24-hour COVID-19 numbers update from the public health unit since last week. After reporting was postponed over the holiday weekend, OPH shared three days worth of data on Monday, reporting 2,262 new COVID-19 cases, or a three-day average of 754 daily.

Hospitalization data was also updated for the first time since Dec. 24. The number of Ottawans currently hospitalized with an active COVID-19 infection rose from eight to 11, including one person in ICU (previously, none were in ICU).

According to OPH data, more than 19 per cent of tests processed between Dec. 20 and 26 (excluding LTC homes) came back positive for COVID-19.

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Two new outbreaks were reported in local child-care centres, while one new outbreak was reported in the congregate care sector.

The seven-day average for the estimated R(t) value is now 1.1. A value greater than one indicates that each case is infecting more than one contact, and the virus’s spread is accelerating.

COVID-19 in Quebec and across Canada

Quebec set a record for new infections in a day with 12,833 reported on Tuesday.

The day’s new cases are more than were reported in the months of June, July or August this year. In fact, they’re more than the monthly totals from June and July combined.

The seven-day rolling average of infections in the province is now at an all-time high of 9,133.

The number of hospitalizations due to the virus increased by 88 to 702 — the highest level since April. The number of COVID-19 hospitalizations has more than tripled in the last month. Of those patients, 115 are in intensive care — an increase of six.

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Quebec also announced that 15 more fatalities had been attributed to the virus, bringing the province’s death toll to 11,692.

While people who do not have the protection of even one vaccine dose make up just 18.7 per cent of the province’s population, they accounted for the majority of the 158 hospital admissions due to COVID-19 in the past 24 hours.

On Monday, Quebec administered 59,816 vaccine doses.

Meanwhile in Canada, with more than two million total COVID-19 cases recorded as of Boxing Day, there are mounting concerns over how provincial health systems will cope with an expected surge in cases after the holidays.

Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions President Linda Silas said her members are bracing themselves for the “big bump” usually seen two weeks after exposure to the virus. She added there are worries hospital could become overwhelmed with new cases as a result of holiday gatherings and the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

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Several provinces reported record high daily case counts over the Christmas weekend.

Quebec reported 8,231 cases, and Health Minister Christian Dube urged people to reduce contacts after hospitalizations climbed by more than 140 over a four-day period.

Dube tweeted that 320 people were admitted to hospital while 179 were released between Dec. 22 and 26. On Monday, Montreal’s executive committee renewed the local state of emergency that was declared on Dec. 21 for another five days.

Manitoba announced new public health restrictions on Monday after recording eight new COVID-19 related deaths and 2,154 cases over a three-day period. As of 12:01 a.m., indoor and outdoor gatherings are now capped at 50 per cent of the venue’s capacity or 250 people, whichever is fewer.

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New restrictions are also now in effect in New Brunswick, where the province announced it would impose a 50 per cent capacity limit on restaurants, stores, bars, gyms and other establishments after officials reported 639 new cases of COVID-19 over a three-day period.

Elsewhere in Atlantic Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador reported a record 357 infections in the last three days, while Prince Edward Island reported 156 cases over the same period. Nova Scotia recorded 581 COVID-19 cases, including an outbreak at the Halifax Infirmary site of the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre.

With files from the Canadian Press and Reuters

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