Omicron 'increasing the likelihood' most Ottawans will be exposed to COVID, top doctor says
Ottawa's top doctor warns the Omicron variant of concern is "increasing the likelihood" most people in Ottawa will eventually be exposed to the COVID-19 virus.
And with students and teachers set to return to class on Monday for the first time after the holiday break, medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches is urging people to get vaccinated and stay home when they're sick to protect the population and hospital capacity.
Speaking with reporters on Wednesday, Etches called the Omicron variant a "game changer" due to its high transmissibility, and says it's important for all residents to help "blunt the curve."
"The vast majority will be able to weather the virus at home and people can prepare for this by making sure they have basic supplies on hand and pain relief medication at home," said Etches during a media conference on Wednesday.
"Do seek health care assessment for severe symptoms, for chest pain, difficulty breathing, confusion, or rapidly worsening symptoms. Many who are unvaccinated and contract COVID-19, and even some vaccinated individuals, will need hospital care to address the impacts of the related illness.
"Omicron cannot be stopped altogether, but we can work to blunt the curve, to blunt that peak and to slow transmission so hospitals can maintain capacity to deliver care."
The COVID-19 wastewater monitoring project for Ottawa is showing signs the viral signal may have peaked, and there's been a slight decline over the past week.
Etches says it's too early to say if Ottawa has hit the peak of the Omicron wave, but there are some signs measures are "decreasing just slightly."
The Ontario government closed indoor dining rooms at restaurants and gyms on Jan. 5 in a bid to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Etches says now is the time where we will see if those measures will have an impact on community transmission of the COVID-19 virus.
"I would say it is unpredictable with Omicron because it's so transmissible, it still have many people in our community it can reach," said Etches.
"Because it is still infecting people who are vaccinated, that's a lot of people in Ottawa where we could still see ongoing transmission given its high transmissibility. Again, if we can slow that it helps our hospitals."
Education minister Stephen Lecce announced Wednesday that parents will only be notified of potential COVID-19 outbreak when about 30 per cent of students in their school are absent.
Get vaccinated: Etches
Ottawa Public Health says anyone who is eligible for a first, second or booster dose can drop in to a community clinic to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, no appointment necessary.
The health unit said that while drop-ins will be accepted, they may not be guaranteed and booking a shot on the provincial portal can ensure you get a shot.
Etches says Ottawa has "capacity" to vaccinate everyone, including booster doses.
"I strongly recommend all Ottawa residents eligible for a third dose receive one as soon as possible," said Etches.
"There is increasing evidence that immunity can wane over time and a third dose provides greater protection against severe illness and complications from COVID-19. The evidence is clear that the rates of hospitalization due to Omicron infection are significantly higher in unvaccinated compared to vaccinated population."
Opposed to a tax on the unvaxxed
On Tuesday, Quebec Premier Francois Legault announced the province would impose a "significant" penalty on people who refuse to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Both Mayor Jim Watson and Dr. Etches say they're opposed to the idea.
"I don't support what the premier of Quebec has proposed; I think there are logistical challenges with it. I would rather work with those people who are unvaccinated to continue to convince them of the merits of vaccination as opposed to sending them a bigger tax bill," said Watson on Wednesday.
"I would rather us use a carrot as opposed to a stick and encourage people to get their vaccination, because at the end of the day it's in their self interest to protect themselves and their loved ones."
Dr. Etches says while vaccination is important protection, she doesn't support a tax.
"I do think it's important to recognize the value of access to health care being a right, and something we do prioritize in Canada. So to me it would be problematic to create barriers to health care for people."