December 9, 2023

Health News

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Lifted capacity limits behind sharp rise in coronavirus levels: OPH doctor

One of Ottawa’s top doctors says a recent rise in COVID-19 transmission likely reflects the dropping of public indoor capacity limits earlier this month, and that it’s too soon to tell whether lifting the mask mandate is to blame.

On Wednesday, Dr. Brent Moloughney, Ottawa Public Health’s deputy medical officer of Health, released a statement noting that the city’s wastewater viral signal and the percentage of positive tests have been increasing.

A slight bump in outbreaks was also noted, though hospitalizations were stable.

Increased transmission is expected to continue as public health measures lift, people hold social gatherings and children return to school following March Break, according to Moloughney’s statement.

His update landed the same day new data from Ottawa’s COVID-19 wastewater monitoring project indicated a surge in the city’s viral signal in the 10 days leading up to March 22. 

Tyson Graber, an associate scientist with the CHEO Research Institute, said the data may reflect the fastest growth of the signal in the first part of a COVID-19 wave since the beginning of the pandemic.

However, he cautioned that a few more days are needed to confirm that. 


Graber said it’s concerning but not unexpected that the signal is rising, citing the removal of public health restrictions and waning vaccine immunity, 

“How high we will go, we cannot predict,” he said.

Indicators stable in EOHU

In an interview, Moloughney said upticks typically happen after any reopening. The city and the province are monitoring the trends, particularly lagging indicators such as hospitalization, he said.

The Ontario Science Advisory Table has predicted an increase in hospitalizations, he noted, but “nothing like what we saw in January” when the Omicron variant was at its peak. 

The recent increase in transmission is likely a result of lifting indoor capacity limits on March 1 and increased social interactions, not the March 21 lifting of the mask mandate, Moloughney said. 

“It’s too soon to have that impact,” he said.

The end of the mask mandate, coupled with the end of March break, may both reveal their impact in the coming days or weeks, he added. 

Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, the medical officer of health for the Eastern Ontario Health Unit, said it’s “a bit too early” to comment on the effect of removing the masking requirement.

“It just happened a couple of days ago,” he said. 

Roumeliotis said the number of hospitalizations and outbreaks in his health region has recently decreased — and he’d like it to stay that way.

“Our hope indeed is that, even if we do get a bit of increase in cases and transmission … that it is decoupled from an overwhelming of our health-care system and sickness and severe disease in the most vulnerable,” Roumeliotis said.