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Health officials encourage vaccination ahead of fall respiratory season

Ottawa's top doctor is reminding residents that COVID-19 is still present in the community ahead of back-to-school, and is urging people to stay home when they are sick and consider wearing a mask to help reduce the spread of viruses this fall.

Ottawa Public Health says there has been an increase in the level of COVID-19 circulating in Ottawa this summer, and a spike in hospitalizations and outbreaks in long-term care homes linked to COVID-19.

Medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches says Ottawa is heading into the "respiratory illness season," with COVID-19, RSV and influenza expected to circulate in the community.

"One of those three viruses is here right now still: COVID-19, it's growing," Dr. Etches said during an interview on CTV Morning Live.

"In August, we have seen not only the wastewater results, but hospitalizations and outbreaks in long-term care and even deaths are starting to go up again. What we can do about it is be aware and adjust our behaviour to the level of risk."

Dr. Etches says it is important for children to return to class this fall, but one of the layers of protection for the community is keeping kids home when they're sick.

"Staying home when we're sick, that makes a difference. That can definitely help with slowing the spread in the community," Etches said.

In a matter of days, tens of thousands of schoolchildren will be back in their classrooms in Ottawa as the new school year begins for English language school boards.

Among them will be Farrel Holoshka, who is attending his first day of school.

"We just did his tour a couple days ago," said mom Harjit Kaur. "He's really excited because it’s a big school it’s not a childcare anymore."

Part of many families' back to school errands includes a trip to the immunization clinic. For Kaur and Holoshka, it's at Sir Wilfred Laurier Secondary School in Orléans.

Public health agencies across the country like Ottawa Public Health are playing catch-up by running vaccine programs over the summer. Immunizations against Hepatitis B, meningitis, and HPV are generally offered in schools, but pandemic shutdowns disrupted schedules and many kids fell behind on their shots.

"We got three of his vaccinations today," Kaur said.

With another item crossed off the list, Holoshka's parents are confident going into the start of the school year, especially as cold and flu season quickly approaches.

"I've seen what this child does. He will lick elevator handles," said dad Stephen Holoshka. "I assume other people's kids do this and if you're sticking them all together, oh my God, they need some kind of extra protection here."

Ottawa's wastewater surveillance shows "moderate levels" of COVID-19 in Ottawa this week, while RSV and influenza levels are low. The Ottawa Public Health COVID-19 dashboard shows there are 22 ongoing COVID-19 outbreaks in Ottawa's hospitals, long-term care homes and retirement homes.

Ottawa Public Health says while COVID-19 is no longer a global health emergency, "It's still out there."

"We know it feels like we've been saying this for years, but layers work," the health unit said on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.

"Properly fitted masks work. Staying home when sick works. Getting vaccinated works. Your layers help protect you from COVID-19 (and other respiratory viruses, btw)."

An updated COVID-19 booster is expected in the next few weeks, recommended for those deemed high risk and will be available at local pharmacies.

"We should be expected to be getting the new vaccines within the next week or two... Mid September," said Andrew Hanna, the owner and compounding pharmacist at Pharmasave Avalon Compounding Pharmacy.

Etches says Ottawa Public Health and school boards are working to make schools "mask friendly and respect the choices that people are making."

"There are reasons to wear masks; masks work," Etches said about helping to "slow down the amount of virus" in the community.

"People will be wearing them to protect themselves from illness, and also people will be wearing them to protect loved ones or people who are at higher risk of illness."

Etches says people in the high-risk groups, including immunocompromised people and pregnant women, should receive a COVID-19 booster six months after their last dose. Top Stories

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