COVID-19: Science advisory group outlines suggestions for pandemic response; Ontario and Ottawa see drop in new cases

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  • Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland seeking pharmacy appointments for AstraZeneca vaccine
  • Province kicks off 24/7 pharmacy vaccinations in Toronto hot spots and enables walk-in vaccinations for drug stores with capacity

A group of science and health experts who provide information the province can use to craft its pandemic response have released a statement, outlining what will, and will not, help Ontario emerge from the COVID-19 crisis.

Much of what the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table is championing either explicitly calls for, or seems to advise, a change in tack for the provincial government in terms of measures it’s implemented, or those it has, so far, not acted on.

What will work, according to the science table, to reduce COVID-19 transmission, safeguard Ontario’s health-care system, and allow for a safe reopening as soon as possible, includes:


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  • Allowing only “truly essential” (italicized, for emphasis) indoor workplaces to stay open, and strict enforcement of protective measures in those places
  • An emergency pandemic benefit that offers more money than the current federal sick-leave program (which the science table described as “cumbersome”), and is immediately paid and easy to access for essential workers who get sick, have been exposed to COVID, or need to get tested or vaccinated
  • Immediate allocation of as many vaccine doses as possible to hot-spot neighbourhoods, vulnerable populations and essential workers
  • Restricting movement into the province and between regions
  • “Focusing on public health guidance that works.” Namely, preventing Ontarians from gathering indoors with people they don’t live with, “with the very limited exception of safe indoor work in essential workplaces”
  • Allowing small groups of people who don’t live together to socialize outdoors, with masks and two metres of distance
  • Keeping playgrounds open, and “clearly encouraging safe outdoor activities.”

Unhelpful measures, according to the science table, are policies that “harm or neglect” the racialized, marginalized and otherwise vulnerable populations the disease disproportionately impacts.

Unproductive, also, are policies that discourage “safe outdoor activity,” (which will also harm children and those without access to their own greenspace.)

Finally, the table notes that, “Inconsistent policies with no clear link to scientific evidence are ineffective in fighting COVID-19.”


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Ontario’s latest pandemic measures, announced by Premier Doug Ford last Friday, saw outdoor amenities shuttered (playgrounds have since been allowed to reopen), stay-at-home policing authority expanded (since partially walked back), interprovincial border checkpoints erected, and outdoor gatherings banned. The government announced further business closures, but only in the construction sector, and reduced capacity limits in big-box stores.

Indoor weddings, funerals, and religious services were allowed to continue, with masking and distancing required, and capacity limited to 10 people.

The province-wide stay-at-home order was extended to a total of six weeks, and the government announced it would dedicate 25 per cent of future vaccine shipments to the 13 hardest-hit public health unit regions.

There was no move on paid sick leave, something many have called for.

Ontario reported 3,469 new cases of COVID-19 Tuesday, a significant drop from daily case counts in the 4,000s seen over the previous six days.

The seven-day average in the province is now 4,319 daily cases. The hardest-hit regions, in terms of active cases, are currently Peel (615 cases per 100,000 people), Toronto (488), York Region (404), and Ottawa (380).

Public Health Ontario reported 14 new cases in Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington, nine in Eastern Ontario, eight in Leeds, Grenville & Lanark, and one in Renfrew County and District.


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The number of COVID-19 patients in hospital and in ICU beds across the province continues to climb, with 2,360 people hospitalized and 773 in ICU. That’s up from 2,202 and 755, the previous day.

In the last 24 hours, 22 more deaths were added to the COVID-19 toll in the province.

On the vaccine front, Ontario is now reporting that nearly four million vaccines doses have been administered, included more than 90,000 on Monday – and that’s an underestimation, according to the health minister’s office. Monday’s Rogers outage prevented some vaccination sites from uploading information to a provincial database. (They’re expected to do so ASAP Tuesday.)

Twenty pharmacies in the Greater Toronto Area will start offering COVID-19 vaccinations around the clock, the Ontario government announced Tuesday.

Ontarians aged 40 and older can now obtain shots of the AstraZeneca/COVISHIELD vaccine at 100s of participating drug stores across the province.

In a news release, the government said it will expand 24/7 pharmacy vaccinations to other “hot spot” areas when it receives more vaccine supply from the federal government.

Currently, Ottawa has three provincially-designated “hot spots.” One of the three, the region circumscribed by the K2V postal code, has been a source of controversy. It doesn’t contain any of the neighbourhoods identified by Ottawa Public Health as facing higher COVID-19 risk.

The province also said it was “enabling” pharmacies to offer walk-in COVID-19 vaccination. In a Tuesday news release, the province said Ontarians should contact pharmacies participating in the vaccine rollout to ask if they’re offering jabs by appointment, walk-in, or both.


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A full list of those select pharmacies is available on the province’s website — you can plug in your postal code to find the nearest one.

Meanwhile, Toronto and Peel Region announced within hours of each other Tuesday that they would issue updated orders requiring businesses that have seen five or more linked cases in the past 14 days to shut down for 10 days.

During that time, workers would have to self-isolate.

“Given that the majority of our cases are now as a result of variants of concern, which transmit faster, this order will support Toronto Public Health’s investigators to help workplaces immediately reduce the risk of spread and manage workplace outbreaks quickly,” Toronto’s top doctor, Dr. Eileen de Villa, said in a statement.

Peel Region officials also said workplace exposures continue to drive high case counts in the area.

Toronto will issue its order by Friday, it said. Peel Region said businesses could be told to close as early as Friday, and those affected will be contacted directly before they are publicly identified..

Latest COVID-19 news in Ottawa

Ontario Public Health reported a major drop in new COVID-19 cases Tuesday, with 186 new confirmed cases.

This brings the total number of cases to 22,224 since the pandemic began.

There was one new reported death, bringing the toll to 483.

There are 136 patients in hospital, 34 of them in intensive care.

OPH data shows that over the previous seven days (April 12-18), an average of 303 cases were reported daily.


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According to OPH, more than one in 10 Ottawans who were tested for COVID-19 over the past week saw that test come back positive. The positivity rate for April 12-18 was 10.9 per cent.

As of Monday, the OPH had administered 249,291 first doses of COVID-19 vaccine and 28,648 second doses.

Outbreaks continue to rise in the area: There were three new outbreaks in healthcare/congregate living facilities, for a total of 17 open outbreaks; two new outbreaks in schools and child care, for a total of 14; and four new community outbreaks, for a total of 19 open outbreaks.

Ottawa’s board of health is urging the the province to beef up the powers of enforcement officers to enter, inspect and shut down businesses that aren’t complying with COVID safety rules.

A motion, passed at Monday evening’s board meeting, also pleads with the province to “urgently” review the types of workplaces that can have staff on site, limiting them only to those that provide groceries, medications and products that are essential for health and safety or medically necessary care.

“Our team is now being inundated from workplaces where more than two people have tested positive,” Medical Officer of Health Dr. Etches said Monday. “We’re also seeing outbreaks in offices where people could have potentially worked from home.”

Meanwhile, Ottawa Centre NDP MPP Joel Harden asked the provincial government Tuesday to walk back border checkpoints that caused “chaos” for commuters in the National Capital Region after being set up Monday as part of a provincial plan to crack down on COVID-19 transmission and the spread of variants of concern.


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“No one in Ottawa asked for these changes,” said Harden during Question Period Tuesday. He also pointed out that Ottawa’s mayor and chief of police weren’t consulted.

Harden pressed the government the stop the “wasteful checkpoints” and focus resources instead on a paid sick day program.

Solicitor General Sylvia Jones noted that Quebec has also restricted access at its border, “because we understand the variants of concern have a very rapid transmission rate, and we need to do everything in these extraordinary times to protect our health care system and our intensive care units.”

Jones also mentioned some past quotes from Mayor Jim Watson, running through a list of instances where he asked Ottawa residents to refrain from crossing the border into Quebec.

Latest national COVID-19 news

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland both say they are seeking pharmacy appointments to get vaccinated with the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine for COVID-19.

Both Trudeau, 49, and Freeland, 52, became eligible Tuesday when Ontario dropped the age to get that vaccine to age 40 and above.

Trudeau says he is still working out the details for getting his shot, while Freeland says she has her children online trying to get her an appointment and is now on a waitlist.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford received his first dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine on camera on April 9.

Ford, 55, got the shot at a pharmacy near his home in Etobicoke.


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Latest COVID-19 news in Quebec

Quebec will drop the age limit for the AstraZeneca vaccine to 45 and over, Premier François Legault announced Tuesday.

“The vaccine is the way to regain our freedom, but that will only happen when a majority of Quebecers are vaccinated,” he said.

Ontario this week lowered the age limit for AstraZeneca to 40 and Legault said the limit could still change in Quebec, depending on provincial stats.

Quebec reported 1,136 new cases of COVID-19 Tuesday, and 17 additional deaths (four of which occurred in the previous 24 hours.)

Of Tuesday’s new cases, 111 were recorded in the Outaouais, bringing the region’s total number of confirmed cases to 10,511 since the pandemic began. In total, the disease has claimed 185 lives in the region.

Hospitalizations rose by eight in Quebec, for a total of 694, while the number of people in ICU dropped by six, for a total of 177.

The previous 24 hours saw nearly 48,000 vaccine doses administered — since the rollout began, 2,448,409 doses have been doled out in Quebec.

COVID-19 Testing and Vaccination in Ottawa

Updated information on COVID-19

Brewer Ottawa Hospital/CHEO Assessment Centre: Open seven days a week, from 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
COVID-19 Drive-thru assessment centre 300 Coventry Rd.: Open seven days a week, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m, appointment only. (NOTE: The drive-thru centre will be closed Wednesday due to inclement weather. It is expected to reopen Thursday.)
The Moodie Care and Testing Centre: Open Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
The Heron Care and Testing Centre: Open Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The Ray Friel Care and Testing Centre: Open Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Howard Darwin Centennial Arena on Merivale Road: The site will remain open for at least two weeks, from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., for anyone older than four. Those wanting to be tested must make an appointment by calling 1-877-232-8828, a line scheduled to be open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.


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Ontario vaccination

Provincial call centre: 1-888-999-6488. The Vaccine Information Line is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and is capable of providing assistance in 300 languages.

Vaccine eligibility in Ottawa: Vaccine eligibility screening tool, from Ottawa Public Health 

To book a pharmacy vaccine: Eligible adults aged 40 and over who are interested in booking an appointment can visit to find a participating pharmacy

-With files from Postmedia and The Canadian Press


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