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COVID-19 hospitalizations higher than last December, MOH warns

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Ottawa's medical officer of health is warning that COVID-19 levels in the community are high and the number of people in hospital because of the disease is higher than it was at this time last year.

In her verbal report to the Board of Health on Monday, Dr. Vera Etches said there is a lot of COVID-19 in the community.

"Today, we see the wastewater levels of COVID-19 are higher than this time last year and hospitalizations are higher than they were at this time last year," she said.

Data from the Ottawa COVID-19 wastewater surveillance site shows a higher wastewater signal on Nov. 30, 2023 compared to its level on Nov. 30, 2022—the latest data available. OPH's COVID-19 dashboard says the seven-day average for patients in hospital because of COVID-19 was 79 for the week of Nov. 21-27. The average number of hospitalizations for that same period last year was 27, according to data from Open Ottawa.

Etches says older adults remain the most vulnerable population when it comes to COVID-19.

"We are continuing to see the highest rates of hospitalization and death from COVID-19 in older adults—people over 60 and especially over age 80," she said. "A significant number of older adults' immunity against COVID-19 is waning since they've not been infected by the virus and their last vaccine dose was more than six months to a year ago, so many older adults remain at risk."

Etches' comments come as Ottawa Public Health plans to wind down its COVID-19 response, which will include cutting hundreds of temporary workers who were hired during the height of the pandemic. This is mostly due to financial reasons, as the Ontario government is no longer covering extraordinary costs related to COVID-19, but Etches said a decreasing demand for vaccines also means OPH no longer needs additional staff.

"The largest number of that expanded workforce were focused on immunization and we've seen the demand for COVID-19 vaccination has come down, and so we're able to meet that demand in the community now," Etches said Monday.

She encouraged residents, especially older residents, to receive their COVID-19 and flu vaccines this year.

"There is no shortage of updated COVID-19 vaccine, no shortage of influenza vaccines," she said. "The time, if you're over age 60, to protect yourself ahead of the holiday gatherings is now."

COVID-19 and flu vaccines are available through health-care providers, participating pharmacies, and through public health clinics for those eligible.

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