On Thursday, the Ontario government released data showing the percentage of COVID-19 outbreaks by location in Ottawa since August, following numerous requests for the data that led to the modified Stage 2 restrictions put in place on Oct. 10.
In Ottawa, long-term care homes, schools and daycares are responsible for the majority of COVID-19 outbreaks in Ottawa.
The data show schools and daycares account for 39 per cent of COVID-19 outbreaks in Ottawa since August 1, while long-term care homes are responsible for 33 per cent of the COVID-19 outbreaks. Restaurants and bars accounted for just two per cent of confirmed outbreaks in that time.
However, Ottawa’s medical officer of health has said that outbreaks are only one part of the picture.
Dr. Vera Etches noted that eight per cent of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 have said they had been to a bar or restaurant in the 14 days before their positive test result, meaning they may have contracted or possibly spread the virus at those locations.
Outbreaks accounted for about 24 per cent of all known COVID-19 cases in the past three months.
An “outbreak” is also a specifically defined event in public health terms. In long-term care or retirement home settings, a single positive case in a staff member or resident is enough for an outbreak to be declared, due to the higher risk of serious consequences in those settings. In childcare settings, a single symptomatic case in a child or staff member triggers an outbreak response. In schools, at least two cases must be confirmed and there must be evidence of spread within the school before an outbreak is officially declared. Two cases with a link between them are also required for a “community” outbreak in a workplace, such as bar or restaurant.
CTVNewsOttawa.ca looked at the data from outbreaks in Ottawa reported between Aug. 1 and Oct. 24 to break down the figures.
Schools and childcare
The figure that stood out in Thursday’s data about the number of outbreaks in Ottawa was the 39 per cent for schools and childcare settings.
Data from Ottawa Public Health show 78 outbreaks in schools and daycares between Aug. 1 and Oct. 24; however, these outbreaks have been consistently small, often ending with the minimum number of positive test results that triggered the public health response. There were also 14 outbreaks in childcare spaces before the first outbreak in a school was officially declared.
Of those outbreaks, 45 were in childcare spaces and 33 were in schools. These outbreaks accounted for 165 total cases (116 in children or students and 49 in staff) and zero deaths.
One childcare space had four cases in the time it was open; four childcare outbreaks led to three cases; five childcare outbreaks had two cases, and 32 had a single case. Data is missing from the spreadsheet provided by OPH in three outbreaks at childcare centres.
In schools, one outbreak led to 13 cases, while there were six additional outbreaks with five or more cases. Two outbreaks in schools led to four cases, four outbreaks in schools led to three cases, and 19 outbreaks reported just two cases.
Of all outbreaks in schools and childcare spaces that began between Aug. 1 and Oct. 24, 11 remain active as of Oct. 29.
Long-term care homes and retirement homes
There were fewer new outbreaks in retirement homes and long-term care homes in Ottawa than there were in schools and daycares, but the outcomes were much worse in the former than in the latter.
From Aug. 1 to Oct. 24, Ottawa Public Health reported 67 outbreaks in long-term care homes and retirement homes (31 long-term care homes and 36 retirement homes). These outbreaks led to 509 cases (277 in residents and 232 in staff) and 33 deaths.
It should be noted that, of these outbreaks, a single one at West End Villa is responsible for 127 total cases and 20 deaths.
Twenty-six outbreaks in long-term care and retirement homes began and ended with a single case. Two outbreaks with one case that began between Aug. 1 and Oct. 24 remain active. Twenty outbreaks involved five or more cases. Of those, 13 remain active as of Oct. 29.
Data is missing from two outbreaks in the spreadsheet provided by Ottawa Public Health.
Outcomes at long-term care homes and retirement homes have improved since the spring. While the number of COVID-19 outbreaks between March 20 and June 1 was much lower, at 35, they were far deadlier, accounting for 233 deaths out of 1,021 cases. This suggests staff at long-term care homes and retirement homes have become better at isolating and containing COVID-19 when it is detected in the home before it spreads.
Data on community outbreaks, such as in workplaces, sports and recreation, homes, and religious institutions, is much less clear.
Ottawa Public Health does not specifically identify the locations of outbreaks such as these, nor does it provide any information as to when the outbreaks began and ended, nor does it provide breakdowns of how many cases were linked to each individual outbreak.
Data from the Ontario government showed three outbreaks in bars and restaurants between Aug. 1 and Oct. 24, two in grocery and retail settings, nine in gyms and sports settings, and two in religious settings or events.
- Data from Ottawa Public Health show the following information for all community outbreaks:
- Religious/Spiritual Organizations: 1 closed outbreak, 6 cases, 0 deaths
- Residential: 1 closed outbreak, 14 cases, 0 deaths
- Sports and Recreation: 7 closed outbreaks, 54 cases, 0 deaths
- Workplace: 3 open outbreaks, 21 closed outbreaks, 158 cases, 1 death
According to OPH, there were 128 cases linked to community outbreaks between Aug. 1 and Oct. 24.
Outbreaks accounted for 985 new lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Ottawa between Aug. 1 and Oct. 24. There were 3,295 new cases in that same time period that are considered “sporadic” and were not connected to a declared outbreak.
The source of infection for all cases in that time varies, but close contact accounts for the majority of the known causes transmission in that time.
According to OPH data, 1,314 cases list close contact as the source of infection, while 963 people were exposed because of an outbreak.
However, there are more questions than answers for community transmission rates, as the source of infection is considered “missing” in 1,175 cases and is unknown in 638 cases, as of Oct. 29.
The data provided is a snapshot in time. The data can change as contact-tracing investigations reveal new information. This is especially true of cases reported within the last 14 days.
Figures for this report were obtained via open source data provided by Ottawa Public Health.
Data for institutional outbreaks can be found here: https://www.arcgis.com/home/item.html?id=5b24f70482fe4cf1824331d89483d3d3
Data for community outbreaks can be found here: https://open.ottawa.ca/datasets/0df365456c254fbc942fe3d85c3dbf83
Data on sources of infection can be found here: https://www.arcgis.com/home/item.html?id=6bfe7832017546e5b30c5cc6a201091b
This report used data from Aug. 1 to Oct. 24, to match the information provided by the Ontario government on Thursday listing the number of outbreaks in Ottawa. The dates from the March to June comparison of long-term care and retirement home outbreaks included outbreaks that began between March 20 and May 27, 2020.
Toronto reports highest single-day case count – CityNews Toronto
Ontario NDP calls for more asymptomatic COVID-19 testing in schools after 19 new cases discovered – CTV Toronto
NDP MPPs are calling on the Ford government to conduct widespread COVID-19 testing at all schools in the province’s hardest hit neighbourhoods after asymptomatic testing at an East York elementary school unearthed 19 previously undetected infections.
Members of the official opposition are urging the provincial government to immediately deploy resources to facilitate voluntary testing centres inside schools in Ontario neighbourhoods with high COVID-19 positivity rates.
“Doug Ford is trying to save a buck by underserving the hardest hit areas,” NDP Deputy Leader and Brampton Centre MPP Sara Singh said in a news release issued Monday.
“He has been refusing to send extra help to hot spots, because he wants to do things on the cheap. That’s resulting in longer, deeper lockdowns and more devastating illness. We need help to end this nightmare, and stop the virus from hurting our loved ones.”
On Sunday, it was revealed that asymptomatic testing at one Thorncliffe Park elementary school resulted in 18 students and one staff member testing positive for the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
In a letter sent to parents yesterday, the principal of Thorncliffe Park Public School said Toronto Public Health detected the cases after 433 tests were processed on Thursday and Friday.
Thorncliffe Park is one of the neighbourhoods in the GTA that has been hardest hit by the pandemic.
Speaking at a news conference on Monday afternoon, Education Minister Stephen Lecce said that the data indicate that community transmission in Thorncliffe Park is substantially worse than the transmission happening within the school.
“I think it should be noted that the principal within this school has communicated that the positivity rate compared from the community to the school is quite vast. In the community, it is roughly 16 per cent positivity whereas in the school it is roughly four per cent,” he said.
“There is a four time increase of transmission happening in the community notwithstanding that those schools are right at the heart of those neighbourhoods.”
He said the disparity indicates that there is “something right happening” when it comes to the “layers of prevention” occurring in the public school system.
“The fact that hundreds of students and staff have gotten tested in this school in conjunction with the local public health unit, I think underscores that the plan in place is working hard to mitigate any further spread,” Lecce said.
“This morning, including the data points from Thorncliffe, 99.9 per cent of Ontario students are COVID-free and that continues to underscore the importance of following public health advice and it really I think demonstrates the importance of keeping schools open, which is our plan for 2021.”
Roughly 14 per cent of the province’s 4,828 publicly funded schools have at least one reported case of COVID-19 and at least four schools are currently closed as a result of outbreaks of the disease.
Province changed testing guidelines last week
Just last week, the province adjusted its COVID-19 testing guidance for school staff and students in Toronto, York Region, Peel Region and Ottawa to allow voluntary asymptomatic testing.
The province also offered school boards in the regions an additional $35 million to strengthen public health measures.
The testing pilot, which is in place for four weeks, was implemented to better track how the virus is spreading in and around schools.
Since late September, Ontario’s assessment centres would not test asymptomatic people unless they were linked to a known case.
The NDP called the funding and four-week testing program a “half-measure.”
“Some students in some regions may be able to get tests. According to the government, the location and method for testing will vary between regions and cities, regions will have to develop their own plan,” the NDP said in a news release last week.
“Ford’s still trying to cheap out on testing students, teachers and staff, and that’s not good enough.”
Infectious diseases specialist Dr. Abdu Sharkawy said he believes the discovery at Thorncliffe Park Public School is an imporant one.
“We know that children tend to be minimally, if not symptomatic at all, but they appear to be quite good at spreading this,” he told CP24 on Monday.
“So we need to be quite aware of whether or not there is any asymptomatic signal within our younger children to prevent that from spreading to others in a multi-generational household or others who are certainly going to be at a higher risk if they acquire COVID-19 and become a lot sicker.”
Sharkawy said he hopes the province continues to expand asymptomatic testing in schools.
“There are a lot of asymptomatic people out there who are infected with this virus and unfortunately until we ramp up our testing capacity and ideally target areas that appear to be harder hit, we won’t really know the extent of the disease that’s out there,” he told CP24 on Monday.
“I think that this was actually an important finding. I don’t think it is one that should create too much alarm amongst people sending their children to school but I hope it is a pilot program that will catch on, especially in other areas that are hard hit.”
Ontario urged to expand COVID testing in schools in wake of 'scary' results at Thorncliffe Park – Toronto Star
Ontario is being urged to expand testing of staff and students — especially in hot spots — after the first site in Toronto uncovered some 19 cases at one elementary school.
“When it comes to our schools and the safety of our students … we need a robust, fully staffed in-school testing program,” said New Democrat MPP Marit Stiles, her party’s education critic and a former trustee for the Toronto District School Board.
“Why, after all these months, is the government still reacting to this virus instead of listening to the experts, planning ahead and investing the resources necessary to keep our schools open and our students safe?”
Last week, Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced the voluntary, asymptomatic testing program for four areas in the province with high numbers of COVID-19 cases — Toronto, Peel, York and Ottawa — leaving it up to boards and their local public health units to determine how to conduct the testing and where.
Toronto’s public and Catholic boards have announced initial locations for the testing, which began last Thursday at Thorncliffe Park elementary, where the 19 cases, including 18 students and one staff member, were found on that first day. Testing was to continue this week.
The board and public health have said the school does not need to be shut down because the cases were not transmitted in the school but rather the community, which has a much higher positivity rate.
Stiles said the province “has asked businesses to close, people have been asked to spend more and more time away from their families, and we owe it to staff and students and their families to test as much as possible.”
And, she added, “to me, the issue is protecting staff and students by knowing the extent” of COVID-19 cases, especially after the holiday break. “If we are going to have a safe and orderly return to class this New Year, we need to know exactly how many students have COVID.”
Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca said the 19 cases found at Thorncliffe Park is a “scary number” and shows the government should have started sooner.
“This will give parents a lot of anxiety,” he told reporters. “Ontario’s not been testing the way that we should be … this government’s really late to the game.”
Green Leader Mike Schreiner said the result at Thorncliffe Park “highlights the need for additional testing, particularly in hot spot areas.”
In York Region, public health is working with the two local boards — public and Catholic — on school-based testing and hopes to reach about 4,000 students over the next three weeks, said Scott Cholewa, manager of infectious disease control.
It has designated 30 schools to target, and will be holding testing after school hours in local high schools. Some will be areas with recent or current cases, and some in areas where schools have had no cases — which it will use as a control group of sorts to “get a sense of baseline, asymptomatic positive level” — and areas that are “testing deserts” in the region, notably King Township and Georgina.
High schools were chosen as testing locations because “they have gyms, and have outside access or are larger and can accommodate people, and the structure can allow one way in, one way out, and no mixing of individuals who come in for testing,” Cholewa said, but both elementary and secondary students will be eligible.
Saliva testing will be used, “which is a less intrusive form of testing” then the typical nasopharyngeal swab, but with comparable accuracy, he added.
He said two different school testing sites will be set up this week, two the following week and the week before the holidays will have three sites.
Lecce said the provincial testing program is already working, given the findings at Thorncliffe Park school.
“Identifying COVID cases, isolating them or moving them from the school, so we don’t have spreaders within the school. That is what the program is designed to do. It is what is taking place,” he said.
As well, he added “part of the benefit of having asymptomatic testing in those high-risk communities … is to provide us with more data to better understand not just where the risk is, but how we could further counter it.”
Stiles said she and MPP France Gélinas, her party’s health care critic, urged a province-wide school surveillance program in the summer and “it never happened.”
She said she can’t understand what took the government so long to act.
Lecce, however, noted that “there are 86 per cent of schools in this province that have no active case at all” and that the province continues to announce “additional surge funding” for schools in areas with growing COVID cases.
Provincial statistics released Monday show that 670 or 14 per cent of the 4,828 schools have known cases of COVID-19, but the Thorncliffe results are throwing that statistic into question.
Four schools in Ontario are now closed because of outbreaks.
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