Ottawa Paramedic Service identifies 130 staff considered 'high-risk contacts' after private event – Ottawa Citizen

About 130 people were at a Dec. 15 social event where off-duty paramedics gathered.
The Ottawa Paramedic Service says it can maintain its operations even though 36 employees have been sidelined with COVID-19 after a private party in a ByWard Market restaurant and 130 more have been deemed “high-risk contacts.”
Mayor Jim Watson said Wednesday the paramedic COVID-19 outbreak was “extremely disappointing and frustrating,” but he had been assured that paramedic service in Ottawa, including paramedics’ participation administering vaccine booster shots, wouldn’t be impacted.
Watson said about 130 people were at the social event where off-duty paramedics gathered.
The employees who attended the event and tested positive for COVID-19 included both paramedics and support staff, Ottawa Paramedic Chief Pierre Poirier said a day after the city revealed the extent of the infections in the paramedic service resulting from the Dec. 15 event.
“As this is an evolving situation, the City continues to monitor the impacts to the service delivery of the Ottawa Paramedic Service and will implement further contingency plans as required,” Poirier said in a statement sent through the city’s communications branch.
In pointing to provincial health directives, Poirier said “any staff person that is a high-risk contact may return to work on work self-isolation if they remain asymptomatic and if they complete the prescribed testing and are negative on all tests.”
The city hasn’t said how many of the paramedics who have COVID-19 are advanced care paramedics.
The restaurant party wasn’t organized by the local lobby group for paramedics.
The Professional Paramedic Association of Ottawa (PPAO) has cancelled all of its events, including social gatherings, since the start of the pandemic.
“That remains unchanged and this event was not advertised nor operated by the paramedic association. We have refused to hold any and all in-person gatherings until the pandemic is over,” PPAO president Darryl Wilton said in a statement.
“It has been terrible and frightening every time we see patients or paramedics anywhere become infected with COVID, and we sincerely hope they all pull through and don’t suffer any serious complications.”
Coun. Matthew Luloff, chair of the council committee that oversees paramedic services, said the outbreak should present a “moment of reflection” for residents.
“While it is very disappointing to find that so many of our paramedics are isolating due to close contact or having contracted COVID-19 last week at a social gathering, I am very thankful for their hard work over the past year,” Luloff said.
“Many of our paramedics have volunteered their time to bolster vaccination efforts and we owe them a deep debt of gratitude. However, our healthcare professionals are not immune to this virus, we hold them to a higher standard, and this incident is a prime example of how easily the new variants spread. This is why PCR testing is being prioritized for our front-line health-care workers.”
The paramedic service has answered the city’s call for help in several areas of response during the pandemic. Paramedics have supported assessment centres, developed a special response team working with long-term care homes and taken shifts to administer vaccine doses.
Their work has been impacted by long offload delays at hospitals, keeping paramedic teams and ambulances at hospitals waiting for patient transfers. Delays inside the city force paramedic services from outside Ottawa to take calls inside the city boundary, impacting paramedic coverage in the counties.
Marc-André Périard, director of emergency services in Prescott and Russell, said he spoke with the Ottawa Paramedic Service on Wednesday to understand if there would be any impacts to his paramedic services in the united counties if there was a decreased paramedic workforce in Ottawa.
“When we heard about the situation our first thing was to find out if this was going to impact our capacity to provide service in the city,” Périard said, explaining that Ottawa paramedics have told him the staffing situation is under control in the city.
“We’re not expecting to be called upon more than we have been over the last couple of months right now,” Périard said.
Wednesday evening, the paramedic service reported 12 more patients have been identified as close contacts of paramedic staff, bringing the total number of low to moderate risk contacts to 105 people.
PCR testing is taking place through Thursday on high-risk contacts within the service who have remained asymptomatic, Poirier said in a memo to council, with results to be shared later in the week.
There was no information Wednesday about how the reduced workforce in the paramedic service would impact its budget, though there could be hints in financial information reported to date.
The last available budget update published in November indicated the paramedic service was on track to overspend its $2.2-million overtime budget by $2 million in 2021, though the service reported spending $4.5 million on overtime in 2020.
The service’s 2020 annual report described “staffing pressures” that year as staff adhered to isolation and quarantine guidelines.
The paramedic service has been budgeted to have 697.8 full-time equivalent positions in 2021. The 2022 city budget will add 14 positions.
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