COVID-19: What you need to know on Sunday, April 17

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Daily COVID-19 numbers for Ontario were not available Sunday due to the Easter holiday. Ottawa Public Health does not report its numbers on weekends. Updated tallies will be available early next week.

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New public health measures

Due to the surge in COVID-19 cases, visits to hospitals in the Outaouais have been suspended until further notice. The CISSS de l’Outaouais, the regional agency responsible for health and social services, said the policy was needed to protect vulnerable patients, health-care workers and the general population.

Caregivers can continue to visit to assist hospital patients. Visits for humanitarian reasons, such as end-of-life visits, are still possible, the agency said.

People giving birth are allowed one companion. The hospitals included are: Gatineau, Hull, Papineau, Maniwaki, Shawville, Wakefield and Pierre-Janet.

Meanwhile, Carleton University has announced that students and staff will be required to continue wearing masks on campus for the time being.

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Carleton joined the majority of Ontario universities that have decided to extend mandatory mask policies into the summer term of classes because of rising rates of COVID-19.

Many Ontario universities had earlier planned to lift mask mandates on May 1, but in the past few days have announced they will extend masking.

As of Sunday, the University of Ottawa had not announced any change to its plan to suspend mandatory masking on May 1.

Students, staff and visitors at the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board are also required to wear masks again after the board passed a policy requiring it.

Ottawa-Carleton appears to be the only school board in Ontario to re-introduce mandatory masking after the province ended it in most indoor public spaces on March 21.

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Masking is encouraged, but optional on the Ottawa area’s other three school boards.

Advice for the holiday weekend

Ottawa Medical Officer of Health Dr. Vera Etches encouraged people to wear masks indoors, stay home if sick, limit the size of social gatherings and gather outdoors, if possible, this holiday weekend.

“We are still in the middle of a significant wave and taking these precautions will help slow the spread of COVID-19 in our community,” she said in a statement.

How to get vaccinated

Fourth doses of the COVID-19 vaccine are available to Ontario residents aged 60 and over as well as First Nation, Inuit and Métis people and household members aged 18 and up.

Eligible people can book through the COVID-19 vaccination portal or by calling 1-833-943-3900, through public health units that use their own booking systems and at participating pharmacies. Some family doctors are also giving boosters.

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In Ottawa, Ottawa Public Health community clinics and after-school clinics are open for drop-in shots for everyone eligible for a first dose, second dose or booster dose.

Where to get tested for COVID-19 in Ottawa

According to a provincial government announcement Monday, anyone 70 and older, people 60 and older with fewer than three vaccine doses, and those 18 and older with fewer than three doses and at least one risk factor such as a chronic medical condition can now be tested and assessed for treatment.

Molecular testing in Ontario has been prioritized for people at increased risk and those living or working in high-risk settings. Those tests are processed in a laboratory.

Ottawans can find out more on the Ottawa Public Health website along with what to do if they have symptoms, test positive or are high-risk contacts.

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Where to get rapid tests in Ottawa

Ontario is distributing free rapid antigen tests through pharmacy and grocery locations across the province, with Health Minister Christine Elliott saying that they’d be handed out until at least July 31. Those tests can be done at home.

On Thursday, Ontario government officials said they are optimistic the current, sixth wave of the pandemic has peaked, but public health officials say it is premature to say so.

Montfort Hospital urged people to reduce the risk over the weekend by wearing masks indoors and opening windows, as well as staying home when sick and ensuring any guests are fully vaccinated.

Both the premier and Health Minister Christine Elliott also repeated Thursday that Ontario’s hospital system has the capacity to handle any increase in cases related to the current pandemic wave.

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That was the message the province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health gave to local public health officials who met with him late Wednesday to ask the province to take more action, such as mask mandates in schools, to reduce high rates of COVID-19 transmission across the province. The provincial government removed most pandemic restrictions last month and says there is no need to reinstate them.

But Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table and local public health officials are less optimistic that the worst of Wave 6 of the pandemic is over or that the health system has the capacity to handle it.

Tyson Graber, co-lead investigator of the COVID-19 wastewater project in Ottawa and associate scientist at the CHEO Research Institute, said it is too soon to say whether wastewater has peaked, especially with a holiday weekend coming up.

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In modeling released Thursday, the science table said hospital occupancy is expected to continue to rise for some time “with uncertainty in the timing and the height of the peak.” The science table also noted that infections in health-care workers are already as high as they were during the January Omicron wave when hospitals postponed some surgeries and procedures. Some hospitals in the province have struggled to deal with so many people off due to COVID-19 in recent days, as have schools and other businesses.

Health law expert Jacob Shelley, meanwhile, said it is a dereliction of duty for boards of health not to take action to prevent the spread of COVID-19 during a pandemic and hospitalizations should not be the metric used to measure the severity of the situation. Long COVID, he noted, is expected to affect a large number of people infected.

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On Thursday, Shelley, who is co-director of the Health Ethics, Law & Policy Lab at Western, sent a letter to Ottawa’s health board saying it is not doing its duty to prevent the spread of infectious disease and should take action under the province’s Health Protection and Promotion Act, no matter what the province does.

“The act is meant to prevent the spread of disease and promote health, it is not about individual assessment. It is impossible to do an individual assessment of risk,” he said in an interview

In the letter to Ottawa’s board of health, he warned that failure to act could result in legal liability.

“It is the duty of the board of health to ensure the prevention of disease and the ultimate responsibility for failure to protect the health of the residents of this health unit will fall on this body.”

With files from The Canadian Press

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