The bold prediction came Thursday as Cameron Love reflected on a year of struggles and resilience within Ottawa’s health-care system during the COVID-19 pandemic, which began locally on March 11, 2020.
While the city has seen more than 15,000 COVID-19 cases and nearly 450 deaths related to the novel coronavirus to date, Love told Global News that stabilizing vaccine supply chains could see the city hit a significant milestone in its local vaccination campaign in the next three-to-four months.
Ottawa will have the capacity to vaccinate 10,000 people per day, Love estimated, once the city’s mass vaccination clinics are fully up and running.
If Ottawa hits that mark in early April, and continues to scale up its rollout strategy in the ensuing weeks, he believes the city could administer 300,000 doses of the vaccine on a monthly basis.
“We’ve got a million people in the city. You could see how we could get a first dose, and many a second dose, by the summer months,” Love said.
The asterisk on Love’s optimism, he acknowledged, is maintaining the steady supply of vaccines flowing into Ontario. A hiccup in vaccine shipments like the country saw in January could set his predictions back later into the summer.
But for Love, a long-time executive at The Ottawa Hospital who formally took the reins in the midst of the pandemic in July 2020, the arrival and distribution of the vaccines has been a beacon of hope in a challenging year for his institution.
The reality of the pandemic began to set in at The Ottawa Hospital in January and February 2020 as officials followed early case reports coming out of Wuhan, China.
When the virus broke out in Italy and New York, filling hospital beds and overwhelming intensive care units, Love said the hospital administration knew it would have to “rally.”
“It wasn’t ‘if’ it was coming to Canada, it was, ‘How do we prepare to manage it,’” he said.
Seeing how early outbreaks had overwhelmed hospitals in other countries, The Ottawa Hospital braced itself for the pandemic’s arrival by trying to build surge capacity to accommodate a potential influx of coronavirus patients while maintaining critical, non-COVID-19 services.
Among the chief concerns not only in Ottawa but across the globe in those early days was the supply of personal protective equipment.
Love said there was “a lot of angst, a lot of concern” among staff that Ottawa’s health-care system would be overwhelmed in the way that New York and similar major cities were. While COVID-19 hospitalization numbers sometimes reached into the 40s during the pandemic’s peaks, Love said the city never hit the crisis levels seen elsewhere in the world.
Ottawa has certainly seen its share of spikes in coronavirus levels and many neighbourhoods, especially within the Black and racialized communities, have experienced disproportionately higher rates of infection.
But in general, Love believes Ottawa has fared relatively well in the coronavirus pandemic even compared to other areas of the province such as the GTA. He credits the Ottawa health-care community, not just within his own hospital, for a strong, cohesive response to the pandemic.
“The resilience of the health-care workforce was probably one of the most remarkable things,” he said. “It’s the No. 1 thing that’s gotten us through the pandemic.”
The “angst” Love described in the early days of the pandemic eased over time as workers became more accustomed to new protocols around the pandemic. But the staff’s mental health was tested again in the new year, he said.
The province-wide lockdowns that began after Christmas and stretched into February coincided with both a surge in COVID-19 cases and The Ottawa Hospital’s regular busy season in the winter months.
The result was both a high-stress work environment and a lack of usual options to blow off steam, like going out to dinner at a restaurant. That was “tremendously hard” on staff, Love said.
But the darkest days of the pandemic are also scattered with bright spots.
Love said the most “memorable day” of the past year was Dec. 15, 2020 — the day the first health-care worker in the city received a coronavirus vaccine at The Ottawa Hospital.
“The feeling in the room, the optimism around it, you could really feel it was a great day,” he recalled. “It was the first real sign of hope that we were going to get through this.”
Since then, uptake for vaccinations has been strong among hospital workers.
Love said 85-90 per cent of the roughly 11,500 patient-facing health workers at the hospital have now been vaccinated, with the remaining 3,500 or so staff set to receive the vaccine in the coming weeks.
He said there have been a few instances of vaccine hesitancy among staff, which he said is to be expected. Some workers who were initially skeptical have come around in recent weeks as others in the staff get the jab, he noted.
The novel coronavirus pandemic has not disrupted construction plans for The Ottawa Hospital’s new $2-billion Civic Campus. Love said the massive project is still slated for opening around 2027 and planning discussions have been ongoing with the Ministry of Health amid the pandemic.
The coronavirus has, in fact, informed design plans for the new campus. Love said planners have been looking at how other countries have pivoted their health institutions to minimize risks of viral transmission.
The new campus will be built with priorities around private rooms, safe visitor access for patients and isolation centres, to name a few examples.
“There’s a huge amount of learning that we’re building into the design of this,” Love said.
“If there should be another pandemic, the infrastructure that will be in place will be far more advanced than what we have at the current Civic.”