Aug. 17 COVID-19 update: Delta cases growing, Vaccination clinics in schools, Government employees face enforced vaccination

Special to WC Online

OTTAWA – Ottawa Public Health (OPH) is reporting four people in Ottawa hospitals with COVID-19 and it says the local Delta variant count is averaging nearly two per day.

The number of hospitalizations today (Aug. 17), is up just one from the previous day. One of the four COVID-19 patients is in intensive care.

OPH is adding 16 cases to its overall Delta variant count. There have been 112 cases of the Delta variant in Ottawa over the course of the pandemic, with 58 of them happening in the last 30 days.

The health unit is confirming 14 new cases of COVID-19 in the city today, which brings it’s last-seven-day total to 121.

OPH is tracking 134 active cases of COVID-19, which is down slightly from Monday. There continue to be two COVID-19 outbreaks at local childcare centres, affecting a total of six children and two staff members. Ottawa’s weekly COVID-19 incidence rate is up to 11.5 per 100,000 residents. The local positivity rate remains at 1.4 per cent.

The City of Ottawa has administered at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine to 84 per cent of its residents over the age of 12 and two doses to 76 per cent. OPH updates local vaccination figures every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Ontario is reporting 348 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday with the vast majority of them happening in residents who are unvaccinated. 

There have been 28,011 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Ottawa (27,284 resolved) since March of 2020.

There hasn’t been a COVID-19-related death in Ottawa since July 8, keeping the city’s pandemic toll at 593.

Ontario to require education, healthcare employees be vaccinated

ONTARIO – The provincial government plans to introduce a set of policies requiring employers in education and several healthcare settings to develop strict COVID-19 vaccination policies for their staff.

A senior government source with knowledge of the decision said cabinet approved the plans on Monday (Aug. 6) night. 

The source said Dr. Kieran Moore’s directive covering hospitals, ambulance services and community and homecare service providers won’t make vaccination mandatory, but those who decline the shots will be regularly tested for the virus. 

The policy will be similar to one that is already in place in the province’s long-term care homes. 

Staff at health-care facilities will need to provide proof of full immunization against COVID-19 or a medical reason for not being vaccinated.  

People who don’t take the shots will need to complete an education session about COVID-19 vaccination and will be routinely tested for the virus before coming to work. 

The health-care sector directive will take effect on Sept. 7.

Some Ontario hospitals like Toronto’s University Health Network have already introduced staff vaccination policies along the same lines as the government’s plans.

The source said the Ministry of Education also intends to introduce a similar COVID-19 vaccination policy for employees at all publicly funded school boards and licensed childcare settings.

Staff in those sectors who don’t get vaccinated against COVID-19 will have to regularly take rapid COVID-19 tests. 

There are also plans for vaccination policies to be introduced in other high-risk settings like post-secondary institutions, retirement homes, congregate group homes, children’s treatment centres, women’s shelters and institutional foster homes. 

The policies are set to be announced amid growing calls from healthcare groups and opposition politicians that the government mandate COVID-19 vaccines for workers in high-risk settings like education and health care. 

Premier Doug Ford has previously said he won’t make vaccines mandatory in any sector because he considers it a constitutional right not to take the shots.

Ford has personally been fully vaccinated against the virus and regularly encourages Ontario residents to get both doses. 

The changes also come as the province enters what experts have declared a fourth wave of the pandemic driven by the more infectious Delta variant, despite high overall vaccination coverage in the eligible population. 

The latest data shows the majority of recently reported infections are among unvaccinated or partially vaccinated people.

Moore has said he expects cases to rise further in the fall when people move indoors, particularly among youth and young adults who are the least vaccinated demographics and will gather in classrooms in September. 

Ontario to run vaccination clinics in schools

ONTARIO – COVID-19 vaccination clinics will run in Ontario schools and nearby locations as the academic year begins, the province announced yesterday (Aug. 16) in a bid to reach unvaccinated youth who are set to gather in classrooms next month.

The clinics are part of a “last mile” government vaccination strategy that aims to make it easy for students, as well as their families and school staff, to get their shots. 

Education Minister Stephen Lecce said local public health units and boards will be required to host the clinics. 

“By making vaccines more accessible, and with a cautious reopening in September following the expert advice of the Chief Medical Officer of Health, we will further bolster our fight against COVID-19 and variants,” Lecce released in a statement. 

Youth aged 12 to 17 have the lowest vaccination rate of eligible age cohorts in Ontario, with 69 per cent having received one dose and 55 per cent fully vaccinated. There are currently no COVID-19 vaccines approved in Canada for children under 12. 

The school clinics are expected to run before the academic year begins and in the first few weeks of classes, but the government did not immediately say where any had been scheduled. The clinics can run before, during or after school hours, either on school property or off-site in partnership with the school board.

The province said maximizing vaccination coverage “will ensure schools remain open for in-person learning for the full school year.”

Daily COVID-19 infections have been steadily rising in Ontario amid loosened public health rules around gatherings and other activities – 526 new cases were reported yesterday (Aug. 16). The majority of recent new cases have been in unvaccinated or partially vaccinated individuals. 

Prominent experts have declared a fourth wave of infections underway despite relatively high overall vaccine coverage – 73 per cent of eligible residents are fully vaccinated and 81 per cent have at least one shot. 

The province’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table estimates 91 per cent of cases are caused by the highly transmissible Delta variant, which is driving fresh waves of cases and hospitalizations around the world. The group also estimates cases are doubling every nine days. 

Dr. Kieran Moore, the province’s top doctor, has said he expects cases to rise further in the fall when people spend more time indoors, particularly among young adults and youth who have the lowest immunization rates in the province. 

Moore has also said he doesn’t expect schools to close again but boards have been directed to plan for that possibility.

After repeated pandemic-related disruptions to in-class learning over the last year, the province will allow more extracurricular activities and relaxed rules in shared spaces when students return to classes next month. Masks must be worn indoors but vaccinations won’t be required for students or staff.

On Monday, the province encouraged people to get their shots but maintained that COVID-19 vaccination “continues to be voluntary.”

The province said vaccines will only be provided at school clinics if informed consent is received from the recipient, “as long as they have the capability to make this decision.”

“Health care providers, the school, and families must respect a young person’s decision regarding vaccination,” the released said.

Calls for a vaccine mandate for workers in frontline jobs like healthcare and education have been growing in recent weeks. 

Ford has so far rejected the idea, but the province’s health minister indicated on Monday that the government would soon have more to say on the matter.

“This is something we are taking a look at provincially and there is going to be further information coming forward to you on this issue very shortly,” Christine Elliott said at the Association of Municipalities Ontario (AMO), in response to a question about mandatory shots. 

In a speech at the same conference earlier Monday, Ford touted his province’s vaccination progress but acknowledged the pandemic may pose continued challenges.

“We’re not done with COVID yet,” Ford said. “This is a virus that will exploit any opportunity, any weakness in the system to mutate and become even more lethal. COVID will be something we live with for a while longer, we must always stay prepared.”

Ottawa mayor wants comprehensive vaccine policy for employees

OTTAWA – Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson is asking the city’s manager to develop a comprehensive vaccine policy for City of Ottawa employees.

“With more of the economy reopened, there is more opportunity for COVID-19 to spread,” Watson wrote in a letter to Steve Kanellakos today (Aug. 17) obtained by West Carleton Online. “Now more than ever it is vital that we ensure the City of Ottawa is doing everything it can to protect our staff and residents.”

Watson believes the city has a responsibility to make vaccines mandatory for its staff after the provincial and federal governments recently laid out new proposed vaccine requirements.

“We are asking staff to do something that the vast majority have already done, and while it may inconvenience a few, it is our duty to ensure our staff and residents are protected,” the mayor wrote.

As of today, the City of Ottawa has administered at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine to 84 per cent of its population over the age of 12 and two doses to 76 per cent. Mayor Watson says those vaccination rates are some of the highest in the province.

Kanellakos is also being asked to engage in dialogue with the city’s key labour partners in the development of a comprehensive vaccine policy.

The city manager’s policy proposal, which is expected to include a timeline for implementation, is due before Labour Day weekend.

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