Ottawa’s COVID-19 vaccination rates are trending well for a second stage of reopening in July and for widespread second-dose protection for most residents by September, according to the latest update from local health officials.
Ottawa and most other areas of the province are set to begin the first step of Ontario’s economic reopening on Friday, allowing restaurants to open patios and gatherings of up to 10 people outdoors.
Under Ontario’s reopening framework, the next step of reopening can only start after a minimum of 21 days have passed since the previous stage began and once 70 per cent of residents have received a single dose of COVID-19 vaccine and 20 per cent have received a second dose.
Anthony Di Monte, the head of Ottawa’s vaccine distribution task force, said during a press conference Wednesday that he is “pretty confident” the nation’s capital will meet those targets by July 2, the earliest date possible to proceed to the second step.
As of Wednesday, Ottawa has already hit 70 per cent of adults aged 18 and older with one dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
The city has scheduled 200,000 appointments between the start of June and July 6, Di Monte said, making it likely the city will reach the 20 per cent second-dose threshold. Currently, nine per cent of the population aged 18 and older have received both doses.
The third step of reopening requires 70 to 80 per cent of people to get one dose and one in four residents to be fully vaccinated.
Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa’s medical officer of health, said in the press conference that, based on expected shipments of vaccine supply from the federal government to the province, she expects most residents will be able to get both shots before September as intervals between doses are shortened.
She said public health measures such as physical distancing and masking will need to be in place until a majority of people are protected by second doses.
Booking those followup appointments in Ottawa via the provincial system has come with hiccups, including a temporary outage for some on Monday when Ontario expanded eligibility to those aged 70 and older to move up their dates for a second vaccine dose.
Mayor Jim Watson wrote to Premier Doug Ford that day to request a “strategic allocation” of 40,000 additional COVID-19 doses in Ottawa to accommodate local demand.
He said Wednesday that he has not heard back from the Ford government about his request.
Di Monte said that continually expanding eligibility without making sure there are doses available is causing frustration in Ottawa.
“You can’t keep lowering and adding people that are eligible without having a corresponding access to vaccines,” he said.
Watson expressed his support for a regional reopening plan on Wednesday if the city continues to hit the province’s metrics.
He pointed to the Porcupine Health Unit, where higher COVID-19 levels are warranting an extended shutdown past Friday, as proof that a region-specific plan should be implemented.
A spokesperson with the premier’s office clarified to Global News that the local medical officer of health in the northern Ontario region opted to remain under the shutdown measures and the varying restrictions do not constitute a regional approach to reopening from the province.
On Wednesday, Ottawa Public Health reported an anomalous negative-one new COVID-19 cases, the result of removing earlier cases added in error from the case management system. In truth, 20 new cases of the virus were added in the past 24 hours, while 21 cases were removed.
OPH, meanwhile, reported one additional death from the virus, raising the death toll to 582.
The number of active coronavirus cases locally dropped to 400 as of Wednesday.
Etches said Wednesday that COVID-19 levels remain similar to those seen locally in February when restrictions were last lifted. Viral levels were again surging in Ottawa by mid-March, however, leading to new highs at the peak of the third wave in April.
Though vaccine protection was much lower in Ottawa at that time, Etches said the rising concern around the COVID-19 Delta variant in Ontario warrants precautions as the city approaches another reopening on Friday.
Watson also urged residents to maintain public health measures when deciding to patronize patios or retailers over the upcoming weekend.
“Let us not go out and celebrate too soon,” he said.
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