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June 30th - Dr. Etches: “Healing Can’t Be Put On The Backburner”

Dr. Etches: “Healing Can’t Be Put On The Backburner”

By Dr. Vera Etches, Medical Officer of Health, Ottawa Public Health

As we learn that COVID-19 levels are on the rise again, we are reminded that the pandemic isn’t over yet. That said, as many of us look forward to summer and some much-needed rest from work and school, we also need to heal from the experiences we have lived throughout the pandemic.

Our need to focus on our mental health, social health, and physical wellbeing can no longer take a back seat. Healing can’t be put on the backburner. While the most drastic measures are no longer necessary to prevent transmission of COVID-19, we have learned how effective layers of protection, like vaccination and masking in crowded indoor places, are to keep safer and well in day-to-day routines.

This summer, we need to be cautious about COVID-19 while we also find ways to connect with others as we heal as a community. It’s still so important to consider our risks and the risks of those around us, especially for our friends, family and neighbours who are at increased risk for serious issues.

Since 2020, we’ve practised measures to protect ourselves and those at greatest risk of illness and death. This work we did to protect each other was necessary and it’s taken a heavy toll on many of us. Stay-at-home orders and physical distancing left many individuals feeling isolated and lonely. Many faced lay-offs, financial stresses and uncertainty – for some, these pressures continue to be a reality.

Families suffered. Parents, educators and childcare providers adapted to extraordinary circumstances. And our children and youth faced ever-changing rules and showed us their enduring ability to adapt. Many have lost loved ones due to the pandemic and will require support and understanding as we navigate through this new reality.

Businesses worked hard to protect employee and client health and support residents in need as many struggled through COVID-19 resurgences and closures. Essential workers continue to step up as we learn how to restore services, while reducing the risk of COVID-19. The process of healing will take time for all of us; some days may be harder than others, and that’s understandable.

Healing from the impacts of the pandemic will require meaningful commitments from all, including our community leaders. The pandemic has laid bare many inequities and flaws in our society and our healthcare system. Economic and social supports, from all levels of government, will be needed to improve housing and employment opportunities for all. The Ottawa Board of Trade, for example, is pointing to the ways local businesses can advance recovery.

Our healthcare system also needs a path towards healing. I encourage healthcare system leaders to advance a recovery plan that addresses longstanding and emerging human resource challenges including the shortage of family doctors and other health care professionals. The system must be reformed to enable health care providers to care for their patients in a realistic and sustainable manner.

As community members, we can all protect and improve our mental health by supporting each other and restoring social connections. A recent study released by Ottawa Public Health shows a 15 percent increase from last year of Ottawa residents reporting “excellent” or “very good” mental health as vaccines were made available. This is a promising start, and we can continue to improve our mental health by reconnecting in ways that make us feel safer. Choose to gather outside when you can and wear masks inside or in crowded settings. Now is the time to get up to date with your COVID-19 vaccinations and there are plenty of walk-in options, at pharmacies and public health clinics.

Please be patient with yourself and others. Getting active and setting realistic goals are key to improving our health and well-being. It also gives us something to work towards.

After these challenging two years, it’s our time to connect again and work on becoming well again in our families, workplaces and communities.

This summer, let’s support each other to keep COVID transmission lower by reconnecting in lower-risk ways.


Dr. Vera Etches is the Medical Officer of Health for Ottawa Public Health.

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