Dec. 22 COVID-19 update: City’s positivity rate rising, Ottawa paramedics catch COVID, Province offering businesses new COVID supports

Special to WC Online

OTTAWA – Ottawa Public Health (OPH) says residents being tested for COVID-19 are seeing positive results 10.5 per cent of the time as it counts a few new outbreaks and another possible community exposures.

As of today (Dec. 22) there are COVID-19 outbreaks at 28 schools, six childcare centres, and six healthcare institutions. OPH is also monitoring 12 community outbreaks.

The latest possible community exposure being investigated by Ottawa’s health unit happened at the Shenkman Art Centre’s Elvis Christmas Special on Dec. 16. OPH continues to investigate other exposures linked to the Shenkman Arts Centre’s Le Group Swing event on Dec. 10; an Ottawa 67’s game on Dec. 11; the Ron Kolbus Centre on Dec. 11; the Glebe Winter Carnival on Dec. 12; and the Infinity Centre’s Winter Formal Dance on Dec. 16.

OPH is confirming 387 new cases of COVID-19 in the city today. There have been 2,032 new cases of COVID-19 confirmed in the last seven days. The health unit says it’s linked 405 cases to the Delta variant in the last 30 days, which makes up 29 per cent of all local variant-related cases. There have been 98 cases of Omicron, which makes up seven per cent of all variant cases in the last 30 days. There are another five per cent of variant cases that are inconclusive.

The number of local hospitalizations due to COVID-19 is at six with no one in intensive care. There hasn’t been a COVID patient in an Ottawa ICU since Dec. 9.

No new COVID-related deaths in Ottawa leaves the local pandemic death toll at 620. 

OPH is tracking 2,435 active cases of COVID-19 in the community.

According to Ottawa’s vaccination dashboard, 92 per cent of residents over the age of 12 have had at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine and 89 per cent have now had both necessary to be considered immunized. The health unit says 89 per cent of residents over the age of five have had one shot against COVID-19 and 82 per cent have had two.

The Ontario government is reporting 4,383 new COVID-19 cases across the province, a daily total not seen since April. Wednesday’s case numbers came after two days where there were consecutive slight drops. On Tuesday there were 3,453 new cases and the day before saw 3,784 new confirmed infections. For historical context, April 23 saw 4,505 cases and on April 17 there were 4,362.

There have been 35,320 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Ottawa (32,265 resolved) since March of 2020.

Thirty paramedics test positive after social gathering

OTTAWA – The City of Ottawa says 30 local paramedics have tested positive for COVID-19 following an off-duty social gathering, and 93 patients have been identified as close contacts. 

The private gathering happened on Wednesday, Dec. 15. Multiple members of the Ottawa Paramedic Service developed COVID-19 symptoms after the event and then tested positive for the coronavirus on Saturday, Dec. 18. 

As the gathering took place in the 48 hours prior to the individual developing symptoms, the city says all staff members who were in attendance were directed to be tested for COVID-19.

The risk for patients identified as close contacts is considered low-to-moderate, as paramedics follow strict infection control and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) protocols.

Paramedic service levels have not been affected by this outbreak of COVID-19 explains the city, however, it continues to closely monitor operations as the situation evolves.

OPH has also confirmed all individuals who were at the establishment, and all high-risk contacts have been reached.

Province to offer businesses more COVID help

ONTARIO – Ontario businesses affected by recent public health measures can apply for rebates on property taxes and energy costs, the government announced last week amid warnings some companies were on the brink of collapse due to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.

The federal government, said it was expanding eligibility for its $300-per-week worker benefit program. Instead of applying only to those who lost work due to lockdowns, it will now apply in regions where business capacity has been capped at 50 per cent to directly affected workers who’ve lost half or more of their income.

Ontario’s new benefit will cover up to 50 per cent of the property taxes and energy costs of eligible businesses while they’re affected by public health restrictions that capped capacity in restaurants, salons and other indoor settings at 50 per cent.

“We recognize these necessary capacity limits to reduce the transmission of the virus will impact businesses, and that’s why we are introducing these new supports, which will put money directly into the hands of business and free up their cash flows during this critical time,” provincial finance minister Peter Bethlenfalvy released in a statement.

The province said the new Ontario Business Costs Rebate program will start accepting applications in mid-January, but the rebates will be retroactive to Dec. 19, when the latest round of restrictions came into effect.

It said businesses will be required to submit their property taxes and energy bills in order to get the rebates.

The government is also providing a six-month interest- and penalty-free period to make payments for most provincially administered taxes, starting Jan. 1, 2022 and running through July 1, 2022.

Ontario’s latest round of restrictions, introduced in a bid to slow the spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, also include reduced hours for serving alcohol.

The announcement of new supports came the same day the Ontario Chamber of Commerce urged Premier Doug Ford to “consider further grants, targeted support programs, and other direct measures” to help businesses and their employees.

“Newly imposed restrictions intended to control the spread of the Omicron variant have left countless small businesses on the verge of collapse,” Chamber CEO Rocco Rossi said in an open letter to the premier. “Nearly two years into this pandemic, it is imperative that any further public health restrictions that inhibit business activity are accompanied by targeted relief and support programs, including loan forgiveness and extensions on payment terms for small businesses.”

Public health units adapting to Omicron

ONTARIO – More public health units in Ontario say they are changing their approach to COVID-19 testing and contact tracing as cases surge due to the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

Niagara Region Public Health said it is beginning to shift resources away from contact tracing to delivering booster doses of COVID-19 vaccines, which it said can “better blunt” the Omicron wave.

Growing case numbers are making it difficult for people to access testing in a timely manner, which in turn is delaying the identification of cases for follow-up, the health unit said.

At the same time, Omicron has shortened the time between exposure and becoming contagious, making it less likely health officials can intervene early enough to break the chains of transmission, it said.

“The utility of following up with cases and contacts has diminished and will become increasingly less valuable as testing delays increase and case numbers overwhelm (Niagara Region) Public Health’s capacity,” the unit said.

Case management and contact tracing will increasingly be handled by artificial intelligence and outsourced support, it said.

The Hastings Prince Edward public health unit, which covers the Belleville area, said it will no longer be able to call everyone who tests positive within a 48-hour period, and will instead focus on responding to cases in high-risk settings such as schools and long-term care.

The health unit said those who undergo testing should monitor the results online and contact their high-risk contacts if they test positive.

On Tuesday, Ontario’s top doctor said the province is preparing to change its strategy on COVID-19 testing and case management in light of Omicron, with guidance expected in the coming days.

Earlier this week, OPH asked residents who show symptoms of COVID-19 but can’t book a test quickly to assume they are infected and self-isolate. 

Health officials in Kingston also reported a strain on testing resources last week.

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