Data suggest the COVID-19 pandemic curve has flattened in Ottawa and the gradual reopening of businesses has not yet had an impact.
Ottawa’s COVID-19 case count rose steadily in June, but at a much slower pace than previous months. By the latter half of the month, as the economic reopening began to take hold, daily reports of new cases were in the low single digits.
Here is a look at how the pandemic has progressed in Ottawa, 16 weeks since it began.
Cases spike in April
The first case of COVID-19 in Ottawa was confirmed on March 11. The total case count rose slowly during the latter half of March, but quickly ramped up in April. 1,178 new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Ottawa during the month of April and 73 people died.
Each day, the number of active cases rose, as new, laboratory-confirmed cases outpaced the number of recoveries. By the end of April, there were 673 known active cases of COVID-19 in Ottawa, according to data from Ottawa Public Health.
Since the end of April, the rise in the total number of cases has slowed and more people began to recover.
May saw the curve’s direction change, but it was also a tragic month for many families in the city.
Curve flattens in May at great cost
Between May 1 and May 31, Ottawa saw an increase in new cases of roughly half the rate seen in April, with 590 new confirmed infections. During that same month, the number of resolved cases jumped dramatically. At the start of May, 805 COVID-19 cases in Ottawa were considered resolved; by May 31, that number doubled to 1,610.
May, however, was also the deadliest month for the disease in Ottawa since the pandemic began, with 168 deaths, many of them in the city’s long-term care homes.
Many of the deadliest outbreaks in long-term care homes began in April, but lasted through the month of May.
Curve plateaus in June
If April was the pandemic’s spike, then May was the hammer that would flatten the curve in June.
According to data from Ottawa Public Health, June has been a plank month. The number of COVID-19 cases and deaths has still been increasing, but at only a fraction of the pace seen in April and May.
There were 132 new lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 between June 1 and June 30, with 19 new deaths.
Active cases continued to fall to a low of 40, though data from June 30 showed a slight increase in the number of active cases, from 40 to 46.
Recoveries continued to increase, but the rate of recovery was also much slower. OPH reported 175 new resolved cases in June, as opposed to 805 in May.
Many of the deadliest outbreaks at long-term care homes officially came to an end in June. Ottawa’s deadliest outbreak, at Carlingview Manor, was officially declared over on June 18. The outbreak claimed 60 lives in the home. The outbreak at Madonna Care Community, where 47 residents and two workers died, ended June 8.
By the end of June, only two outbreaks remained active.
The data suggest fewer people are contracting the virus, accounting for the slower rate of not only new cases, but recoveries as well. The testing figures provided by Ottawa Public Health show that testing remains strong and fewer positive cases are being returned.
At the start of June, as many as three per cent of all tests came back positive. By the end of the month, that number had dropped to 0.3 per cent.
Laboratories returned more than 19,000 test results between June 1 and June 28, for an average of 680 tests per day.
However, OPH notes that those who did contract the virus in June were still getting it from the community, and not from a close contact or institutional outbreak.
According to the data, two-fifths of all new confirmed COVID-19 cases in Ottawa in June are believed to be the result of community spread.
The rate of hospitalizations also fell in June. At the start of the month, 39 people were in hospital with COVID-19 complications. By the end of the month, there were two, with one in intensive care.
Full details can be seen at Ottawa Public Health’s COVID-19 Dashboard page, which is updated daily.
Holding the line in July
Ottawa’s medical officer of health, Dr. Vera Etches, says Ottawa has done well to flatten the curve of COVID-19, but the risk of a second wave is real.
“We are seeing second waves emerge in other parts of the world and, while we are fortunately in a much better position here in Ottawa at this point, we are also at risk of a second wave,” Dr. Etches said in a statement on June 29. “We can watch other countries and communities to learn about what works to control COVID19 and adapt approaches to what is appropriate for our city.”
A recent outbreak at a Kingston, Ont. nail salon has led to 30 cases in that city. None of the affected individuals have been hospitalized, but it shows how easily one case can turn into dozens. Recently lifted lockdowns in some parts of the U.S. have been reinstated as cases continue to surge south of the border.
With 40 per cent of all new cases in Ottawa linked to community transmission, Dr. Etches said all of these figures are based only on what has been confirmed by laboratories.
“Currently case numbers are steady, outbreaks are decreasing and we are maximizing testing and contact tracing capacity. This is good news, but the positive case numbers you see updated on our website every day are still just a fraction of the infections truly present in the community,” Dr. Etches said.
“The risk of an increase in COVID19 cases and outbreaks is real. Modelling data shows that a decline of just twenty per cent in public control measures could lead to a second wave. Our actions influence whether a second wave occurs and its severity. Ottawa residents have already shown that they are capable of doing what needs to be done to keep the virus at a manageable level.”
The next step for Ottawa could be a mandatory mask order. Those rules are already in place in Kingston and set to go into effect in the Eastern Ontario Health Unit’s jurisdiction. The City of Toronto also recently passed a by-law making masks mandatory in indoor public spaces starting July 7.
The Ontario government is currently discussing how to move regions into the third stage of its reopening framework. Health Minister Christine Elliott said she is waiting for another week’s worth of data before going ahead.
Stage 3 would allow the size of public gatherings to increase and all workplaces to open, according to provincial guidelines.
Manitoba processing plant with COVID-19 should learn from Alberta facilities and shut down, union leaders urge – CBC.ca
Union leaders who witnessed a devastating COVID-19 outbreak at meat-packing facilities in Alberta are calling on a Brandon, Man., plant to shut down before its four cases of the novel coronavirus become many more.
There’s no time to waste, said Alexander Shevalier, president of the Calgary and District Labour Council.
He’s speaking from experience: In Alberta, 900 plus employees at a Cargill meat-packing plant tested positive for the virus and two died, while 600 employees were infected at a JBS plant.
“How many infections before the company takes it seriously? How many infections before the Manitoba government takes this seriously? Is it 10? Is it 100? Is it 1,000?” Shevalier asked.
“I would suggest that at four [cases] they can get a handle on it quite easily, and I would suggest at four it should prompt some sort of trigger testing to make sure that this is dealt with.”
In Brandon, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 832, which represents 2,000 employees at the processor, are calling on the company to temporarily cease production until at least Aug. 10, after four employees contracted the virus.
Outbreak rampant at Alberta meat processors
The union is asking to suspend operations until more information is known about the 60 outstanding tests among workers.
Their concerns are heightened by what happened at slaughterhouses to the west of them.
It took weeks for Cargill to succumb to pressure and close its plant near High River, Alta., but it was already well on its way to becoming the largest outbreak tied to a single facility in North America.
Only days before the plant was temporarily shuttered on Apr. 20, a provincial inspection by video concluded the plant could keep operating, while politicians held a telephone town hall to assure staff that their workplace was safe.
Several workers accused their employer of disregarding physical distancing rules and trying to lure people back to work from self-isolation.
But meat-packing outbreaks aren’t exclusive to Alberta. Across the continent, these businesses have emerged as dangerous hot spots for COVID-19, linked partially to employees’ inability to stay apart while standing shoulder to shoulder on the processing line.
Shevalier urged officials in Manitoba to act before it’s too late.
“It’s better if you get a handle on the outbreak early, so that you don’t have to close a plant for two weeks and create a lot of anxiety in the community.”
Although four employees at the Brandon plant are confirmed COVID-19 cases, Manitoba’s top doctor said Thursday there’s no evidence the virus has spread within the plant.
“If we see evidence of transmission within a facility, [that] would be concerning to us,” Dr. Brent Roussin said.
Maple Leaf said it is reviewing the four cases while each of the employees recovers at home. The company does not plan to cease production in the meantime.
“We will continue to operate our Brandon plant as long as we believe we can provide an environment that will protect the safety of our people while working,” the statement says.
One worker, who wasn’t on the production line, tested positive late last week and the three cases from Wednesday aren’t involved in production, UFCW Local 832 said.
Though the case numbers are low, it doesn’t allay the fears of Thomas Hesse, the union head representing workers at the Cargill plant in southern Alberta.
“The Cargill circumstance also started with a handful of employees and early on, it was hard to sort out what the origin of the outbreak was and what its connection was to the community,” said the president of UFCW Local 401, which is embroiled in a legal fight stemming from the union’s efforts to prevent the plant from reopening.
From what he’s heard from his counterparts in Manitoba, Maple Leaf worked diligently to acquire personal protective equipment, stagger breaks for workers and mandate temperature checks.
The company’s efforts should be applauded, Hesse said, but now, “Maple Leaf is at an intersection.” The right call is to shut down the plant temporarily, he said.
Experts are studying how meat-packing facilities became virus incubators. It’s believed the proximity of employees have played a role, and maybe the ventilation systems designed to control odours and prevent meat from spoiling.
“We’re seeing outbreaks related to a very specific industry. We should look hard at those and learn from industries where we don’t see outbreaks,” said Cynthia Carr, a Winnipeg epidemiologist and founder of EPI Research Inc.
Hesse said he doesn’t want another community to go through what happened at Cargill.
He’s spoken to families who’ve lost a loved one because they went to work. He knows of workers, who didn’t exhibit symptoms, living with the guilt they spread the disease to someone else. He’s talked with a young mother who was forced to isolate in her garage, while her kids cried inside her house.
His message to Maple Leaf: “When you see a lot of [COVID-19 case] numbers, you’ve got to step back and you’ve got to do the right thing.”
Union wants production halt at Manitoba Maple Leaf plant over COVID-19 cases – Preeceville Progress
BRANDON, Man. — Manitoba’s largest increase in positive COVID-19 cases in months has prompted a union representing employees at Maple Leaf Food Inc.’s pork processing plant in Brandon to call for it to cease production.
Thirty new cases were announced Thursday in the province, 18 of which are connected to a cluster in Brandon.
The cluster includes four workers who tested positive at the pork plant.
There are 34 active cases in the Prairie Mountain Health Region, which includes the city about 200 kilometres west of Winnipeg.
“Today’s case number is a reminder that COVID-19 is not done with us, that we still need to take those fundamental precautions,” said Dr. Brent Roussin, the chief provincial public health officer.
Roussin said there was no indication of workplace spread at Maple Leaf.
He said the Brandon cluster is linked to a person who travelled from Eastern Canada and didn’t self isolate “perfectly” upon arrival in Manitoba.
While Roussin would not confirm where the traveller came from the province cautioned about possible exposure on a Montreal to Winnipeg flight on July 29.
Until Thursday, there had not been a major single-day increase in the province since 40 cases were announced on April 2.
Jeff Traeger, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 832, said in a memo Thursday that the union wants the company to stop work at the Brandon plant until Aug. 10 at the earliest.
“Until we have more results from the outstanding tests among our members at Maple Leaf,” Traeger said.
One worker at the plant tested positive over the weekend and the union said three new cases Wednesday are non-production staff.
The union represents nearly 2,000 people at the pork plant.
Meat-processing plants were the epicentre of some of the largest COVID-19 outbreaks in Canada outside of care homes. Hundreds of people tested positive during outbreaks at two southern Alberta beef-processing plants this spring.
There were three deaths linked to the Cargill plant in High River, Alta. It shut down for two weeks before reopening at reduced capacity. The JBS Canada plant in Brooks, Alta., operated with just a single shift each day for a full month.
Maple Leaf said in an email that a response plan was immediately implemented following the positive tests at the Brandon facility. The company said it appears likely the employees contracted COVID-19 in the community.
However, several employees were asked to self-quarantine.
All employees are given a daily health screening and have their temperatures monitored, the company said. Employees are also supplied personal protective equipment and are required to social distance.
“We will continue to operate our Brandon plant as long as we believe we can provide an environment that will protect the safety of our people while working,” the email from Maple Leaf said.
COVID-19 cases in Manitoba had remained relatively low, with a current total of 474, but there has recently been an increase in infections.
Health Minister Cameron Friesen said the union had sent him a letter requesting the government conduct a full health inspection of the Brandon plant. He said it will be left to public health experts to make determinations about safety.
“We are not there in this case yet.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 6, 2020
— By Kelly Geraldine Malone in Winnipeg
Opposition leaders back call to shut down Brandon Maple Leaf plant after 4 COVID-19 cases – CBC.ca
The leaders of Manitoba’s opposition parties are backing a union’s call to shut down the Maple Leaf Foods plant in Brandon, Man., after four cases of COVID-19 involving workers at the plant.
“We want them to shut the plant down,” Jeff Traeger, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 832, told CBC News on Thursday morning.
The union said in a memo to workers early Thursday that three more cases had been identified among non-production unionized employees at the pork processing facility.
That came after one other worker in the plant tested positive for COVID-19, which prompted more than 70 employees who may have been exposed to go into self-isolation.
The first worker who tested positive, who also wasn’t on the production line, hasn’t been at work since July 28, the union said Wednesday.
The UFCW was alerted about the three new cases around 10 p.m. on Wednesday, Traeger said. Now the union, which represents nearly 2,000 workers at the plant, wants Maple Leaf to stop production until at least Aug. 10, until more information is known about any of the 60 outstanding tests among workers.
“We’re looking for Maple Leaf to shut the plant down until all of those test results come back, have a proper deep-cleaning of the plant done, make sure people have time to self-isolate and then start up production again after … they can say with confidence that they have it under control,” Traeger said.
Later Thursday, the leader of Manitoba’s Opposition NDP backed that call.
“[If] the union is saying there’s an issue and we have to hit the pause button, then we support that,” Wab Kinew told reporters during a scrum at the Manitoba Legislature.
“This isn’t necessarily just about the workers in the plant, as important as they are,” said Kinew. “If the situation there gets worse, it could potentially pose a threat to the broader community.”
Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont, who also spoke with reporters Thursday, said because meat processing plants have been hot spots for COVID-19 outbreaks elsewhere in North America, the situation in Brandon cannot be taken lightly.
“It’s something that their union has recommended. It should be shut down temporarily because there needs to be a full screen of all the employees done,” said Lamont.
CBC News asked Maple Leaf for an interview, but the company instead sent an emailed statement saying it plans to keep the plant open for now.
“After a careful and detailed review of the circumstances around the cases, it appears very likely that the [employees] contracted COVID-19 in the community,” the company said in a Thursday morning statement.
“We feel confident that our plant environment is safe,” Maple Leaf’s statement said, citing measures such as daily health screening, temperature monitoring and use of personal protective equipment by employees.
Maple Leaf has notified the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the union and its employees of the positive tests, the statement said.
The first worker at the plant who tested positive passed the medical screening on July 28 before starting work that day, but started feeling sick during the day, UFCW said.
The latest three employees to test positive all work in the same department as each other, but not the same department as the first case, Traeger said.
Maple Leaf says all four employees are recovering at home.
Parts of the plant were deep-cleaned over the long weekend.
One other employee, a security guard at the plant, tested positive for COVID-19 in May.
Health Minister Cameron Friesen wouldn’t comment on the Maple Leaf cases during a COVID-19 briefing on Thursday, but did say Maple Leaf and many other businesses have been working hard to implement COVID-19 precautions.
“We have employers and workplaces across this province who have put enormous effort into getting this right, into keeping their employees and keeping the public safe,” Friesen said.
“[Maple Leaf] is one of those who has been making incredible efforts to partition, to sequester staff, to be able to know where they’re coming in or where they’re going out in order to be able to respond.”
Traeger’s biggest concern is having an outbreak like those at meat processing plants elsewhere in Canada earlier in the pandemic.
Three Alberta plants — the JBS plant in Brooks, the Harmony Beef plant in Balzac and the Cargill plant in High River — all saw positive cases.
“The nature of the type of work these people do is shoulder to shoulder,” Traeger said. “Once the virus gets into a plant like this, it quite easily spreads, and that’s what we’re worried about.”
In April, the Manitoba Liberals sent letters to the provincial government asking for a plan to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks at meat processing plants, Lamont said Thursday.
“We haven’t seen a plan,” he said.
Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin, who also wouldn’t comment directly on the Maple Leaf cases, said public health officials here are working with people in the meat processing industry because of the outbreaks elsewhere.
“Something that we would look very carefully for is if we see evidence of transmission within a facility. [That] would be concerning to us,” said Roussin.
Health officials haven’t seen evidence of transmission within the plant so far, he noted.
When asked if the province will order the plant to be shut down, Friesen said action will be taken based on advice from public health officials.
That response didn’t satisfy the NDP leader.
“It’s a convenient degree of separation for the elected officials in the Pallister government to say they’re just following public health advice,” said Kinew.
“In this instance, I think that it’s pretty clear that the government should take much more decisive action to address the situation in Brandon.”
Brandon Walmart, Tim Hortons employees test positive
Elsewhere in Brandon, the Tim Hortons location on Middleton Avenue temporarily closed its doors after an employee tested positive for COVID-19, the company said in an emailed statement Thursday afternoon.
The employee last worked at the coffee shop on Aug. 2, and tested positive on Aug. 5.
Employees who worked closely with the positive case are now self-isolating for 14 days. All of the employees will be compensated for lost wages, the company said, and the restaurant will remain closed until it can be sanitized and a separate crew of employees can be brought in.
Meanwhile, Walmart said an employee at its Brandon store recently tested positive for COVID-19 as well. The person last worked in the store on July 26, a spokesperson for the company said.
The store is still open, but the spokesperson said it is taking measures including increased cleaning, wellness checks for all employees, and limiting the number of customers in the store at one time.
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