Ottawa Public Health encouraging people to limit Easter gatherings

Ottawa Public Health encouraging people to limit Easter gatherings

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Public health officials from Ottawa and around the province were to meet with Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore Wednesday to discuss indoor masking among other issues as the sixth pandemic wave continues to grow.

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Earlier in the day, Dr. Vera Etches, medical officer of health for Ottawa Public Health, issued a special statement encouraging people to wear masks indoors, to stay home if sick, to limit the size of social gatherings and to 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 the statement.

Ottawa Public Health said COVID-19 levels in the city’s wastewater and per cent positivity of those being tested are high and increasing, as are new hospitalizations and outbreaks, all signs of significant amounts of transmission in the community. Rates of serious illness are not as high as in previous waves, said Etches.

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The meeting with Moore, which Etches discussed at a press conference Wednesday, came ahead of a holiday weekend, at a time when most pandemic restrictions have been lifted and COVID-19 is spreading rapidly.

In recent weeks, Etches and other public health officials have strongly recommended indoor mask use but she has said she would prefer the province bring back mask mandates rather than act on her own under Section 22 of the province’s Health Protection and Promotion Act.

On Wednesday, she said issuing a Section 22 order is not off the table, but noted that the amount of COVID-19 currently in the community is not resulting in high levels of serious illness.

She said among things to be discussed with Moore would be “the kinds of things that will make a difference” including indoor masking and more promotion of third and fourth doses of vaccines.

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Moore has indicated he would like to see mandatory masking remain in long-term care homes, hospitals, transit and other high-risk settings beyond April 27. This week Health Minister Christine Elliott said Moore is looking at data to consider whether mandatory masks should also be reintroduced in schools, among other things.

On Tuesday night, Ottawa’s biggest school board, the Ottawa Carleton District School Board, voted to bring back mandatory masking.

In her special statement, Etches acknowledged that this weekend, which falls on Easter, at the beginning of Passover and during Ramadan, represents yet another holiday during the pandemic in which people are being told to be cautious and limit gatherings.

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“Sharing this message is not easy. We have been through — and continue to navigate — a significant event that will leave an imprint on our lives forever. We don’t yet know how long COVID will be present in the community, or to what extent, but we’ve been at this for 25 long months and we will see this through with you. Such measures will not always be needed, but are useful to go back to in times of high levels of COVID-19 in the community.”

The upcoming holiday weekend comes amidst an ongoing wave of COVID cases, the first significant one during the pandemic in which most restrictions have been lifted.

The Ottawa Public Health message for people to “assess your individual risk and the risk of those with whom you plan to gather” has drawn criticism because there is little sign it is changing significantly slowing the steep rate of transmission in the community, as evidenced by wastewater levels of COVID-19. Etches said she is seeing some signs that the increase is slowing. Although wastewater levels are at record highs in Ottawa and much of the province, hospitalizations not as high as with previous waves.

Etches also encouraged people to use rapid tests, to stay home when sick, to get as many vaccines as they are eligible for and to access antiviral treatments if they qualify and are infected. More information is available at

She also noted that there is a significant mental health benefit people get from social celebrations and gatherings.

“This is a big weekend for many and that is an important part of being well. Social isolation has really taken a toll.”

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