How did a Kanata-area postal code with lower than average rates of COVID get designated a provincial hot spot? That is a question many people are asking.
“I don’t know why it is on the list,” said Glen Gower, city councillor for Stittsville, which includes a portion of the K2V postal code.
The forward sortation area K2V (the first three digits of a postal code) was among a list of hot spots released by the Ontario government last week. The province said the list represented areas that had been disproportionally affected by the pandemic.
But that doesn’t seem to be the case in the K2V postal code, which encompasses an area west of Terry Fox Drive and south of the Queensway that includes the Canadian Tire Centre and some residential neighbourhoods.
K2V was one of three postal codes in Ottawa given the hot-spot designation, which the province said would mean residents 50 and up would be prioritized with extra COVID-19 vaccines.
The designations seemed to take the City of Ottawa by surprise. In a memo last week, it said the city does not currently have enough vaccines for people 50 over in the designated hot spots.
The other two Ottawa hot spots, K1T and K1V, include the neighbourhoods of Ledbury, Heron Gate, Ridgemont and Greenboro East, which had already been designated as high risk by Ottawa Public Health, based on its own data.
Ottawa Public Health has been working in 21 high-risk neighbourhoods since early last month as a way to vaccinate Ottawa’s most vulnerable first. It will continue prioritizing those neighbourhoods, the city said.
Neighbourhoods in the K2V postal code are not among them, though. According to the city there are no high-priority neighbourhoods in that postal code.
In fact, K2V is among the lowest-risk parts of the city, according to recent data from the non-profit research organization ICES.
According to ICES, the K2V forward sortation area ranked 37th out of 39 in Ottawa for COVID-19 positivity during the week ending March 28. It had a COVID-19 positivity rate of 2.05 per cent compared with a rate of more than 23 per cent in the K1P postal code in central Ottawa, which is not on the province’s hot-spot list. Rates of COVID-19 in the community have increased significantly since then, which could shift its ranking.
According to Ottawa Public Health neighbourhood data, Kanata South has seen moderately high numbers of cases in the past two weeks, but most of that ward is in another postal code. K2V straddles the west side of Kanata South and the east side of Stittsville, which has low case numbers.
So how was K2V designated as a provincial hot spot?
In a statement, Ministry of Health spokesperson Alexandra Hilkene said the hot spots were identified by high rates of COVID-19, outbreak data, research and analysis conducted by Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table. Low testing rates and “sociodemographic barriers that may result in vaccine hesitancy” were also factors, she said, as were a high proportion of the population living in congregate settings.
Those are similar to the criteria used by Ottawa Public Health to identify high-risk neighbourhoods, none of which were found in the K2V postal code.
In response to a question from Ottawa South Liberal MPP John Fraser on Monday, Health Minister Christine Elliott said the hot spots are areas with high transmission and death rates, based on historical data.
“Any suggestion that any postal codes were selected for other reasons is really beneath you,” Elliott said to Fraser, who noted that K2V is in Long-Term Care Minister Merrilee Fullerton’s provincial riding.
Fraser called designation of the small Kanata area postal code a “head-scratcher.”
For Gower and Allan Hubley, city councillor for Kanata South, it is both curious and frustrating.
“When I first saw it, I was curious why they would include it because we are not aware of anything out of the norm going on in that area,” said Hubley. He said he is waiting for some clarification from Ottawa Public Health.
Gower said the lack of clarity about the hot-spot designation is frustrating for him and residents.
“Since last week, I have been trying to find out why the province has added this particular postal code and so far I don’t know why it is on the list,” he said.
“If you look at the numbers, I don’t see anything that would indicate K2V over other postal codes in the city.”
He said he has contacted Ontario Health and Carleton Progressive Conservative MPP Goldie Ghamari, but has heard nothing back.
Meanwhile, he is getting calls from residents seeking more information. That includes some who want to know whether they should be concerned by the hot-spot designation.
“It is very frustrating for me as a councillor not to have any information from the province that we can respond with. We are still trying to figure that one out.”