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Ottawa transit commission hopes to prioritize COVID-19 vaccines for OC Transpo workers

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Ottawa’s transit commission is pushing local and provincial health officials to recognize the role OC Transpo operators have played in keeping the city running during the COVID-19 pandemic, hoping to bump train and bus drivers in the vaccination queue amid a recent surge in coronavirus infections affecting transit workers.

More than 100 OC Transpo staff across the entire organization have tested positive for the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic, according to an update at Wednesday morning’s transit commission meeting.

Of those cases, 26 employees are currently recovering from the disease in self-isolation.

OC Transpo has seen a recent jump in COVID-19 cases, with Ottawa city council receiving reports of eight operators testing positive for the virus over a recent eight-day period.

Transit commissioner Sarah Wright-Gilbert attempted to find out how many of the total cases are traced to workplace transmission, but OC Transpo boss John Manconi said he’s been advised by medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches that he can’t share that information for privacy reasons.

Transit operators are listed in the second priority group of essential workers as part of Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine sequencing plans, but several commissioners speaking Wednesday wanted to get the city’s bus and train drivers bumped higher in the order.

Councillors Riley Brockington and Glen Gower both put forward motions looking to get front-line OC Transpo employees prioritization in vaccine sequencing, but others pointed out that the much-debated public health topic of who gets the vaccine and when is well beyond the scope of the transit commission.

“We are not in a position in transit commission to be decreeing, or making an edict, about what group of essential workers is more at risk than others and should be prioritized. That should be left up to public health experts,” Wright-Gilbert said.

Knoxdale-Merivale Coun. Keith Egli, who also chairs the Ottawa Board of Health, reflected on the board’s four-plus-hour meeting on Monday evening, during which vaccine sequencing and prioritizing essential workers dominated the conversation.

“Vaccine sequencing is obviously a very difficult maze to get through,” he said.

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COVID-19: Ottawa police announce end of 24-7 presence at Ontario-Quebec border

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Less than two days after the Ontario government’s latest COVID-19 restrictions came into effect, calling for non-essential traffic to be stopped at the province’s borders with Quebec and Manitoba, the Ottawa Police Service has announced it is stopping its 24-hour checkpoints.

According to a statement issued by the service Tuesday evening, the around-the-clock border checkpoints were set to end as of 8 p.m. on Tuesday in favour of rotating checkpoints across the city throughout the day until Ontario’s temporary regulations end.

“Since the onset of the border operations, the OPS has been working closely with Ottawa Public Health (OPH) along with local stakeholders and interprovincial stakeholders (the City of Ottawa, the City of Gatineau, the Ontario Provincial Police etc.) to assess any local public health, traffic and safety impacts. The assessment resulted in today’s operational changes,” the statement said.

“The operational changes announced today are designed to better ensure the health and safety of all, to minimize delays and/or hazards for travellers and to ensure essential workers can get to their places of employment on time.”

The statement also said the police service, while working to comply with the provincial order, was focused on education and enforcement actions that “support improved public health outcomes and respect the concerns of our most marginalized and racialized communities”

Officers said they will be conducting daily assessments on border crossings and that there could be further changes.

In a statement to Global News, a spokesperson for Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said that the border closures are ultimately subject to the discretion of local police enforcing the regulations.

“Local police services are best positioned to determine the operational deployments necessary to ensure the continued safety of their communities,” the spokesperson said, noting that the order’s regulations still apply to individuals entering the province.

The temporary order restricts Quebec residents from entering Ontario. If prompted, individuals must stop when directed by an enforcement officials and provide their reason for entering the province.

The main exemptions to the restrictions include if the person’s main home is in the province, if they work in Ontario, if they’re transporting goods, if they’re exercising Indigenous or treaty rights, if they need health care or if there’s a basis on compassionate grounds.

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COVID-19 vaccines in Ottawa: Nearly half of all residents in their 60s have at least one dose

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OTTAWA — Ottawa Public Health’s latest COVID-19 vaccination update shows that nearly half of all residents 60 to 69 years old have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, a figure that has all but doubled in the past week.

OPH’s COVID-19 vaccination dashboard shows 58,000 residents 60 to 69 have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, accounting for 49.3 per cent of that age group’s population in Ottawa. Last Wednesday, OPH reported 30,000 residents 60 to 69 had had at least one dose, which was 25.4 per cent.

As age demographics get younger, the population grows larger and the coverage by percentage may appear to grow more slowly, even if clinics are vaccinating greater numbers of people. For example, the latest figures show that 83 per cent of people aged 70 to 79 have had at least one dose. By raw population that’s 60,000 people, only slightly higher than half of all people in their 60s.

Vaccinations are open through the Ontario portal to anyone 60 and older and, this week, the AstraZeneca vaccine was approved for administration at pharmacies and primary care clinics to anyone in Ontario 40 and older.

OPH reported a new shipment this week of 25,740 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. To date, Ottawa has received 305,130 doses of COVID-19 vaccines from the provincial government.

The number of eligible residents (i.e. 16 and older) with at least one dose of a vaccine is now up to 28 per cent.

Tuesday was Ottawa’s second-busiest day for vaccinations overall, with the OPH reporting 9,729 shots administered. Last Friday saw 9,887 shots administered in a single day.

QUICK STATS

  • Ottawa residents with at least one dose: 248,668
  • Ottawa residents with two doses: 26,722
  • Percent of eligible population (residents 16 and older) with at least one dose: 28 per cent
  • Percent of eligible population (residents 16 and older) with two doses: 3 per cent
  • Percent of total population with at least one dose: 24 per cent
  • Percent of total population with two doses: 3 per cent

VACCINATION COVERAGE BY AGE FOR OTTAWA RESIDENTS WITH AT LEAST ONE DOSE

  • 10-19: 1.6 per cent (1,804 people)
  • 20-29: 8.3 per cent (13,452 people)
  • 30-39: 9.5 per cent (14,999 people)
  • 40-49: 12.9 per cent (17,350 people)
  • 50-59: 28.8 per cent (40,320 people)
  • 60-69: 49.3 per cent (58,627 people)
  • 70-79: 82.9 per cent (62,808 people)
  • 80-89: 87.5 per cent (29,358 people)
  • 90+: 89.2 per cent (7,893 people)
  • Unknown age: 2,057 people 

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‘My stomach dropped’ Ottawa nurses react to COVID ICU deployment

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OTTAWA — Odelia Scher is no stranger to the intensive care unit at the Queensway Carleton Hospital.

Walking into the COVID unit at the hospital in Ottawa’s west end for the first time, she was taken aback. 

“I hadn’t been to the COVID unit or the COVID ICU at all and when I walked in and saw the environment, it was a lot to take in,” Scher said. 

Scher spent one year in the intensive care unit at the Queensway Carleton Hospital before moving to a different specialization.

Last week, she was called back to critical care.  

“My stomach just kind of dropped a little bit,” Scher said. 

“Having been in an ICU before, we had vented patients before. I would say at one time when it’s really busy we had three patients on a vent, four patients on a vent. The COVID ICU is almost solely vented patients,” she added.  

The young mother is one of many nurses being redeployed across Ottawa, part of a strategy to manage increases in ICU’s throughout Ontario. 

“I’ve only been back for two shifts and out of those two shifts, I’ve had one patient die,” said Christie Cowan, another redeployed ICU nurse. 

Cowan was moved to the COVID ICU at The Ottawa Hospital last week. A 12-year nursing veteran, she says the pandemic has created a situation unlike anything she’s experienced before. 

“There is an unknown factor to it; How bad is it going to get? When is it going to get back?  There’s a lot of unknowns to it, so you just have to walk in that day and do your best,” Cowan said.  

Both Cowan and Scher say they’re proud to be doing their part to fight the virus, but it comes at a cost. 

“Going to work and knowing you’re going to be exposed to COVID and come home and bring that…god forbid, you could potentially bring that to your family. It’s a stressful feeling,” Scher said.  

Currently, Ottawa has more than 100 COVID patients in hospitals across the city. Just under a third are receiving critical care. 

“We’re roughly looking at about 50 per cent of occupancy is related to COVID, if not higher, in the ICU’s but we’re prepared to go significantly higher,” said Dr. Dave Neilipovitz, the head of Critical Care at The Ottawa Hospital. 

Across the city, the Montfort Hospital says eight of the 11 patients in their ICU have COVID-19. 

At the Queensway Carleton Hospital, 12 of the 34 COVID-19 patients are also receiving critical care; they’ve even opened up temporary surge space to help with ICU capacity. 

Ottawa Public Health is reporting 27 people in ICU’s across the city. 

Cowan says the number of patients being treated came as a shock.

“It is scary caring for people who are so, so sick and have been previously healthy. The population is younger, the acuity is higher, and the amount of patients we have to is also increasing quite quickly,” she said. 

The influx of patients from Southern Ontario only adds to the pressure. 

“Everyday you never know what you’re getting. Currently we’re getting patients from other cities which has been putting a lot of pressure on our units as well, and you know they’re tired – they’re really tired – and they just want this to be over,” Scher said. 

Although the pair just started in the ICU, they can see the toll it’s taking on those who have spent the past year caring for the most ill. 

“I see them tired, I see them fatigued, I see them frustrated,” Cowan said. 

The duo are pleading with Ottawa residents to follow public health advice, warning that although they’re able to manage the case loads now, that may not always be the case. 

“There’s only so much we can do if we don’t have your help, because at a certain point there’s not going to be any more hands to pull from a different unit. There’s not going to be the resources, and if you get sick we want to be able to give you the care that you would want,” Scher said.  

Despite the exhaustion, Cowan says those in the ICU are doing their best, adding every patient is given the best care possible. 

“(The doctors and nurses) care, no matter how tired they are, they care,” Cowan said.

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