Ottawa Board of Health welcomes new members and chooses a chair

ABOVE: In a unanimous vote, Councillor Catherine Kitts was elected chair of the Ottawa Board of Health. (PHoto: Meet Catherine | Catherine Kitts)

The primary focus of yesterday’s Ottawa Board of Health meeting was the swearing-in of newly appointed members of the board and the election of an interim chair, for which Councillor Catherine Kitts was unanimously elected by her fellow board members.

Kitts will be officially instated in the position at the first meeting of Ottawa’s top health body in the new year. However, she assumed the chair position immediately after accepting the offer and began conducting business as usual.

Dr. Vera Etches presented a verbal report regarding the state of public health in the city. The city’s Medical Officer of Health welcomed the new members and gave an update on Covid-19 and other respiratory illnesses.

Dr. Etches stressed the importance of keeping the citizens of Ottawa informed and noted that Ottawa Public Health would not only continue doing twice weekly dashboards on the state of Covid-19 in Ottawa but has started posting weekly graphics with key Covid-19 data and what it means so that it is accessible to citizens.

According to Dr. Etches, the graphics are shared through Ottawa Public Health’s social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. The information on each snapshot has also been updated to include information on RSV and influenza and is now called the respiratory illness snapshot.

Dr. Etches gave a rather grim outlook on the state of health in the city, noting that Covid-19 levels are currently high in the wastewater and influenza levels remain high as well, while RSV cases remain high but are decreasing.

Etches said that hospitals in Ottawa are still under extreme pressure and preventive measures to reduce the transmission of illness are critical. Dr. Etches encourages masking at holiday events and in shopping centres, noting that it is expected that there will be a spike in Covid-19 cases in the new year due to increased transmission possibility from holiday activities. She also encouraged citizens to open windows when eating or drinking.

During the presentations by delegates, Greg Macdougall of made a PowerPoint presentation where he tried to raise the alarm over the state of Ottawa’s health system. He cited several examples of deaths due to ambulance shortages and pointed out that ICUs are 200 percent over capacity.

Macdougall is advocating for a return to mask mandates. He says that city mandates are not enough and that the province must impose them. Dr. Etches responded by stating that the city's Public Health Board would support organizational mask mandates. However, since organizations such as the Ottawa Carleton District School Board did not impose one, she will not. Dr. Etches also noted that the virus is a provincial problem that Ottawa can only mitigate. However, Dr. Etches encourages masking among residents and calls it a sign of “caring for others.”

During the question section, Councillor Glenn Gower asked how Ottawa’s medical professionals are faring. Dr. Etches noted positive changes, including medical professionals in the city being able to take time off for vacations and overtime hours coming down.

Ottawa’s Board of Health is scheduled to meet again in the new year.