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Ottawa Public Health led well in pandemic but should remain vigilant, report finds


A third-party report says Ottawa Public Health (OPH) showed leadership throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, but that future crises will require it to remain vigilant.

Dr. Paul Gully’s report examining the role of the local health unit during the pandemic looked favourably upon its response to an ever-changing emergency.

During his remarks, the public health consultant said the key was recognizing the COVID-19 pandemic was different than any other that came before it.

“Ottawa Public Health was willing to look at the information coming forward — the surveillance: local, national, international — and then make the necessary changes in terms of the traditional public health response to that,” said Gully, a professor at University of British Columbia’s School of Population and Public Health, at the Ottawa Board of Health’s Monday meeting.

“And I said in my report, that was extremely important.”

Gully was the deputy chief public health officer at the Public Health Agency of Canada, and senior medical advisor to the deputy minister of Health Canada.

His findings and 18 recommendations were received by the board Monday. 

‘Future evolution of COVID-19’ requires surveillance

The report found public health policies were communicated effectively, and that OPH displayed leadership and adapted to fast, frequent provincial changes. 

According to the report, future threats may need greater investments in surveillance and risk assessment as “the future evolution of the COVID-19 pandemic is unpredictable.” 

“It is predicted that the threshold for re-introduction of public health orders, e.g., requiring use of masks and the curtailing of business and social activities, will be high,” the report reads.

“Therefore, it is recommended that there be continued regular reporting of indicators of the level of community transmission which will promote awareness of COVID-19 and keep individuals, communities and decision makers informed if there is a need to revisit public health policies.”

Dr. Paul Gully’s report examining the role of the local health unit during the pandemic looked favorably upon its response to an ever-changing emergency. (YouTube)

The report says greater investments in surveillance and risk assessment will also be necessary to help prepare against other potential future threats, like an extended climate emergency.

“OPH is having to deal with the immediate crises of the COVID-19 pandemic, Monkeypox, toxic drug poisonings and the health effects of climate change while also responding to other continued threats to health in the areas of infectious diseases, chronic diseases, mental illness and injury,” the report goes on to say. 

The report suggested OPH manage its relationship with staff to avoid burnout, an idea Dr. Vera Etches agrees with. 

She said sustainability should be reviewed, and that the prolonged response is taking a toll on staff. 

“It’s important to have surge capacity,” she said by phone Monday night. “So continuing to have a lot of nurses who can vaccinate on call, I know is really important, probably, if we run into vaccine preventable disease, or at the same time, those who can help with case management and outbreak management.”

Gully’s report also recommends OPH continue to collect socio-demographic data and regularly monitor the city’s well-being.

The next Ottawa Health Board meeting will be Nov. 7.


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