March 22 COVID-19 update: One new Ottawa case, pay raise for grocery employees, retirement homes running low on PPEs, not all Canadians coming home

OTTAWA – A good weekend in Ottawa as only two new cases were reported despite an increase in testing.

This brings the total of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Ottawa to 21. The Ontario government made the announcement Sunday morning (March 22) while it confirmed six other cases across the province.

The patient in Ottawa is a woman in her 20s and is self-isolating. How she contracted the virus is still under investigation. 

Only one case was reported Saturday, bringing the weekend’s total of reported cases to two. The patient was a man in his 30s who became infected through close contact.

Ottawa Public Health says it is still investigation two other possible cases.

Among the six other positives is a 30-year-old man in eastern Ontario. The exact location of the man is unknown, as is the method of transmission, but is said to be self-isolating.

The total number of positive reports in Ontario is now at 424.

Eight people across the province have since recovered and three have died.

Metro, Loblaws raise wages for those working through pandemic

CANADA – Metro and Loblaw are raising wages for grocery store and distribution centre workers by $2 per hour during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Metro and the union that represents Loblaw workers say the wage boost is retroactive to March 8.

Metro says the raise will last until May 2, but the Loblaw union did not give an end date.

They say the raise is an acknowledgment of the tough but necessary work their employees are doing during an unprecedented time.

“Our extraordinary teams are motivated by what they see as a responsibility to Canadians and the opportunity to make a difference,” executive chairman Galen Weston released in a statement. “But, unlike so many businesses across the country right now, our supermarkets and pharmacies are performing well. And the leaders in our business wanted to make sure that a significant portion of that benefit would go straight into the pockets of the incredibly people on the frontline and in our distribution centres.”

Grocery stores are an essential service, so they can’t be shuttered during the pandemic, even for the sake of social distancing.

Both chains are also due to install Plexiglas barriers at service counters in an effort to protect employees from becoming infected.

Retirement homes running low on PPEs

OTTAWA – As the first week of recommended physical distancing and self-isolation draws to a close, local retirement residences are running low on personal protection equipment (PPE).

On Friday night (March 20) Michael Pichette, who manges the Billingwood Manor in Nepean, Lombard Manor in Smith Falls and Cumberland Lodge in Cumberland took to social media looking for the community’s help.

He said those residences are running low on essential medical supplies like gloves, masks and gowns.

although his and other seniors homes have been preparing for COVID-19 since it was first reported, Pichette says things are far worse than anticipated.

“Because of how it’s evolved throughout the globe, clearly supplies are being diverted to areas where they are most need now, and that’s not us,” Pichette said. “You’ll find most retirement communities, we’re all in the same boat. This was a call for me, but I’m sure I’m echoing the call of almost every general manager in the city of Ottawa.”

Among the supplies needed are masks and gloves. Pichette says he has about 2,000 gloves on hand, however, forecast models are telling him he’ll likely need 4,000 to maintain the need. 

The most critically needed protective gear, though, are hospital gowns. 

“I do not have thousands of gowns,” he said. “If you have 10 people infected and they’re touched six times a day, then you’re going through 60 gowns a day. It doesn’t take long to go through hundreds and hundreds of these things.”

Pichette began ordering supplies about six weeks ago when he saw the number of cases were starting to climb in Wuhan, China. 

In all, Pichette estimates he has enough medical gear to last the next three weeks, as long as “the numbers don’t go crazy.”

“If I end up with 40 or 50 of my residents getting [COVID-19], well then, I’ll be out of this stuff in a matter of a week,” he said. “Or if this drags on for four or five weeks, then we’ll definitely have some issues.”

Another essential need for Pichette is volunteers. 

The manager says he is staffed properly now and has even added extra staff. What worries him, though, is if staff members become ill, limiting his manpower.

Pichette hopes people will not only think about helping the homes he manages, but also lend a hand to other retirement homes within their own neighbourhood. 

Watch what you flush

OTTAWA – Ottawa’s director of infrastructure services is noticing an increase in alcohol wipes in the sewer system and is pleading with residents to stop flushing unflushables.

Over the past week Alain Gonthier says Ottawa’s sewage system and pumps have been overwhelmed with the amount of disinfectant and baby wipes being flushed down toilets. This, he speculates, is because more people are working from home as a result of COVID-19 and increasingly disinfecting areas with wipes they think are flushable but are not.

“Some claim they will biodegrade but the reality is they don’t biodegrade that quickly, so once they’re in the system they wouldn’t have biodegraded and that’s the problem right now,” Gonthier said. “Regardless of what it says on the packaging, do not flush them in the toilet — put them in the garbage.”

The system, Gonthier said, is designed to be self-cleaning. The city only does flushes periodically, with exceptions made for areas that are known problems.

The problem, Gonthier explains, happens in three stages. 

First is with the sewer system. If the wipes start to conglomerate with fats and greases, blockages are created. 

The second is with the pumping station. More and more wipes are making their way into the pumping system and clogging the pumps. If that happens, crews have to take the pipes apart — which is no easy feat — and clean them manually. 

Then there’s the issue with something called a degrit facility, an area that captures waste before it goes into the actual plant. But crews, too, are seeing buildups there. 

Trudeau unable to get all Canadians home

CANADA- Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says lockdowns in other countries and air-space restrictions due to COVID-19 means Canada won’t be able to get every citizen home who is trapped abroad.

Trudeau is urging Canadians currently stuck in foreign countries to make safe decisions, stay in touch with Global Affairs and not head to airports unless they have a confirmed seat on a flight back.

Trudeau says the federal government is working with airlines to arrange flights to countries where Canadians are.

An Air Canada flight bringing a group of Canadians home from Morocco is expected to land in Montreal today and others from Peru and Spain are likely to be announced soon.

Trudeau says the government will help cover some of the costs for these flights, but passengers will be expected to pay a reasonable price.

There are now more than 1,100 confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19 in Canada.