Canada

COVID-19: Positive virus numbers likely an 'underestimate,' official says; City ramps up with fresh supply of vaccine

There were 210,638 vaccine doses administered across the province in the past 24 hours

An adolescent receives a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at a clinic in Toronto

Monitoring indicators are showing continuing declines in Ottawa’s daily COVID-19 case counts, hospitalizations and outbreaks, but those numbers are likely an “underestimate” of actual cases, according to Ottawa’s deputy medical officer health Dr. Brent Moloughney.

While key indicators have been trending down in the city, Moloughney pointed to a troubling incline in the viral signal contained in the city’s wastewater. The wastewater study has served as an early warning signal for COVID-19 levels in the community and often accurately predicts the testing trends that will follow.

The increase in the viral signal is similar to the pattern shown at the beginning of Ontario’s earlier waves of the pandemic.

The increase in the viral signal suggests there has been a recent increase in COVID-19 transmissions in the city and, with fewer people getting tested, Moloughney said “the reported number of infections continues to be an underestimate of the number of infections in the community.”

People can be asymptomatic carriers, Moloughney said, or are exhibiting mild symptoms and have yet to be tested.

How much COVID-19 levels rise as the province enters its phased reopening plan, Moloughney said, “depends directly on our collective actions.”

“The level of transmission in the community is much higher than it was last summer, and we are now contending with more transmissible COVID variants compared with the original virus last year,” he said. “We will need to reach higher levels of immunization with two doses before we can rely on vaccines alone to keep COVID at a low, manageable level.

“That won’t happen until close to the end of the summer, at the earliest.”

Ottawa Public Health reported one new death and 13 new confirmed cases Friday.

There have been 27,526 total cases in the city and 587 deaths.

There are currently 245 active cases in Ottawa, with 13 patients in hospital and four in ICU.

One new outbreak was declared at the Portia Learning Centre on June 15, with two students and one staff member testing positive. There are five ongoing outbreaks at health care and congregate living facilities and two in community settings.

Among closely watched indicators, the rolling seven-day average of cases per 100,000 residents is 16.5, while the percent positivity among the community according to testing is 2.9. The reproductive number, which measures how many people one COVID-19 patient can infect, is 0.89. A number below 1.0 indicates the virus is receding.

Meanwhile, Ottawa is ramping up vaccinations with the arrival of a fresh supply of Moderna, and confirmation from the province of a “strategic allocation” of 33,500 additional doses next week.

More than 90,000 Ottawa residents received a vaccine last week, either through vaccination centres, pharmacies, primary care and other channels, according to a memo to Council from Anthony Di Monte, emergency and protective services general manager and Dr. Brent Moloughney, deputy medical officer health.

Nearly 820,000 total doses have been administered in Ottawa to date, with 75 percent of adults having received at least one dose, and more than 141,000 people are fully vaccinated.

Those efforts are expected to “ramp up” with the arrival of 27,000 Moderna doses Friday, with an additional 25,000 Modena doses being distributed to local pharmacies.

Those combined doses represent the first allocation to Ottawa of over nine million Moderna doses the federal government announced it expects to receive through the end of June.

Regular deliveries of the Pfizer vaccine continue, and according to the memo, some AstraZeneca is available in select pharmacies and primary care settings.

The province has also confirmed that Ottawa will receive another strategic allocation of 33,500 additional vaccines in addition to 5,000 extra doses the city received last week.

“This reflects what staff have consistently requested from the province, and what was recently supported publicly by Mayor Watson,” the memo states. “This allocation will help address existing demand for appointments in our city as the province prepares to further expand second dose eligibility.”

More appointments are now available through the provincial booking system for those who still need a first vaccine dose or are eligible for a second dose.

With the additional vaccine supply, the city will “almost double” the number of clinic locations, with appointments added to several new clinics at uOttawa (Minto Sports Complex), the Canadian Tire Centre (Gate 3), the Horticulture Building (Lansdowne), Canterbury Recreation Complex and the Nepean Sportsplex Curling Rink.

Residents can visit Ontario.ca/bookvaccine to access the provincial booking system or call the provincial vaccine booking line at 1-833-943-3900 between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. seven days a week.

People are asked to call only if eligible.

Officials said small numbers of additional appointments are sometimes made available due to vaccine reallocation or cancellations.

Eligibility is also being expanded as of next week.

Beginning Monday, all Ottawa residents 18 and above who received their first dose of an mRNa (Moderna or Pfizer) vaccine on or before May 9 will be eligible to book a second appointment at a community clinic.

Latest COVID-19 news in Ontario

Ontario is reporting 345 new laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 cases and one new death in Friday’s data.

There were 26,643 tests completed in the past 24 hour period with a 1.4 per cent positivity rate.

Waterloo recorded the highest number of daily cases in the province with 85 new confirmed cases Friday. There were 50 in Toronto, 50 in Peel, 29 in Hamilton and 22 in York region.

There were nine new cases identified in Ottawa, according to provincial data. Ottawa Public Health reports its own statistics in the afternoon. These figures can differ from provincial stats because the data are collected at different times.

The Eastern Ontario public health unit recorded five new cases, and there was one new cases in Kingston.

No new cases were identified in the Hastings region, in Renfrew County, or in Leeds, Grenville and Lanark.

There were 210,638 vaccine doses administered across the province in the past 24 hours and Ontario has now administered 12,153,663 doses.

There have been 541,525 total cases in Ontario since the beginning of the pandemic and 8,994 deaths.

COVID-19 news in Ottawa

The Ottawa BlackJacks professional basketball team has sent a second request to Premier Doug Ford and local MPP Lisa MacLeod asking for the same exemption granted to the Toronto Maple Leafs when the team hosted a limited number of fully-vaccinated health care workers for a playoff game.

The BlackJacks said via Twitter Friday that the idea has been endorsed by Mayor Jim Watson and they have asked provincial officials twice about the idea, but are “still waiting” for a reply.

The BlackJacks of the Canadian Elite Basketball League are set to open their season at TD Place on June 24.

Latest COVID-19 news in Canada

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s promise of a two-dose fall is looking a lot more like it will become a two-dose August.

Trudeau says Canada is on track now to have 68 million doses delivered by the end of July, which is more than enough to fully vaccinate all 33.2 million Canadians over the age of 12.

Previously Canada expected enough to fully vaccinate 75 per cent of all eligible people before August, but Moderna has now scheduled another 11 million doses to be delivered in late June and early July.

Three in four eligible Canadians now have their first dose, and just under one in five are now fully vaccinated.

Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam says there are some signs uptake in first doses is slowing now and efforts are starting to shift from mass vaccination clinics to more targeted operations for people who have struggled to access a vaccine or are hesitant to get one.

Meanwhile, the National Advisory Committee on Immunizations (NACI) is now recommending mRNA vaccines (Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna) should be the preferred choice for a second dose, even for those who received a first dose of AstraZeneca.

According to NACI’s most recent recommendation, updated Thursday, the mRNA vaccines are “interchangeable.”

But those who received a dose of Pfizer, for instance, should still be offered the same product for a second dose.

“If the same product is not readily available, or the product used for the first dose is unknown, another mRNA vaccine is considered interchangeable and should be used to complete the series,” NACI stated.

And the mRNA vaccines are now preferred for second doses as they show “better immune response” and mitigate potential blood clot risks associated with AstraZeneca.

According to NACI, mRNA vaccines are “now preferred as the second dose for individuals who received a first dose of the AstraZeneca/COVISHIELD vaccine, based on emerging evidence of a potentially better immune response from this mixed vaccine schedule and to mitigate the potential risk of VITT associated with viral vector vaccines.

“People who received two doses of AstraZeneca/COVISHIELD vaccine can rest assured that the vaccine provides good protection against infection and very good protection against severe disease and hospitalization.”

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said Friday the American and Canadian governments are extending restrictions on non-essential international travel until July 21.

He adds in a tweet that the government will provide details on Monday about plans to let fully vaccinated Canadians and permanent residents enter the country.

The measures at the border have been in place since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.

The pressure to relax the restrictions has been building from businesses on both sides of the border, and increasingly from American lawmakers as vaccination rates climb in Canada.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has previously said that it would take 75 per cent of Canadians getting vaccinated before restrictions can be lifted.

COVID-19 news in Quebec

Quebec reported 127 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, the 13th straight day with fewer than 200 cases.

In addition, two new deaths were reported. Both of them occurred before June 11.

There are 175 people in hospital, 39 of them in ICU.

There were 12 new cases reported in the Outaoauis region, for a total of 12,415 since the pandemic began. There were no new deaths.

The province administered 97,768 additional vaccine doses on Thursday.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Quebec has reported 373,658 cases and 11,180 deaths linked to COVID-19.

-With files from Postmedia and the Canadian Press

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