December 8, 2022 – The healthcare system is under the “triple threat” of COVID-19, flu, and RSV, making it challenging for parents to access timely care for their kids. In response, the Renfrew County Virtual Triage and Assessment Centre (VTAC) has expanded its virtual and in-person clinical support for kids with respiratory illness. 

“VTAC has expanded its services during this difficult respiratory illness season to support a burdened healthcare system and to help ensure parents and kids have the care they need,” said Dr. Jonathan Fitzsimon, Medical Lead, VTAC. “In most cases, parents can manage children’s symptoms at home safely, but there are scenarios when parents need medical advice or care for their kids – we’ve partnered with CHEO and the local emergency departments to provide those services.” 

VTAC’s respiratory illness support includes same-day appointments for physician assessments to determine the best management options for the child. These appointments are available by phone or video and, in some cases, on-site with the support of The County of Renfrew Paramedic Service.  

“VTAC is an essential healthcare partner in our region,” said Karen Simpson, Executive Director, Arnprior and District Family Health Team. Their support during respiratory illness season is another example of how VTAC expands their medical services to meet the communities’ current needs and support hospitals and  family health teams in care delivery.”  

When parents can access VTAC for respiratory illness concerns 

As a first step, kids experiencing any cough, cold, or ear, nose, and throat symptoms, who require medical assistance or advice, should try to be seen by their family physician or primary health care provider. 

If a child (2 years or older) does not have a family physician or their regular primary health care provider cannot be reached, parents can call Renfrew County VTAC at 1-844-727-6404 for medical support. 

Navigating the respiratory illness symptoms and care options 

As a parent, it can be challenging to know when a child’s symptoms require a consult by their family doctor or VTAC. Here are a few examples of when a child needs a physician assessment:  

  • Has a fever lasting 72 hours or longer.  
  • Has a fever that went away for a day or longer (without fever medication) and then came back.  
  • Is unusually irritable and won’t stop fussing, even after treating their fever.  
  • Has an earache lasting more than 48 hours.  
  • Is not eating or drinking. Note that it’s normal to eat and drink less when sick. Liquids are more important than food.  
  • Has special needs that make caring for them more difficult. 

Call 911 or immediately go to the nearest emergency department if your child has the following signs or symptoms:  

  • Difficulty breathing 
  • Becoming very pale or blue around the lips  
  • Drowsy or not responding to your voice  
  • A fit or convulsion  
  • Becoming unwell quite quickly  
  • An accident or injury such as a burn, broken bone, or cut that may need stitches  
  • A rash that does not fade when pressed 

“Parents are in a difficult position – there is a high prevalence of respiratory viruses,  longer wait times for care, and shortages of over-the-counter cold and flu medicines often used for caring for sick kids at home,” said Dr. Christopher Zadow, Physician Lead, Arnprior and District Family Health Team. “It is imperative that parents and kids are accessing the care they need when they need it, and our community will benefit from VTAC’s much-needed additional medical support during this tough respiratory illness season.” 

Other non-urgent care options 

Health Connect Ontario (formerly Telehealth Ontario) connects parents to a registered nurse 24/7 for health advice via live chat or phone. Learn more:  

West Ottawa Clinical Assessment Centre is operated by QCH in partnership with community physicians. It is for treatment for people with symptoms of respiratory illness – cough, fever, and cold-like symptoms – in need of medical attention. Learn more:  

Tips for caring for your sick child at home (provided by Ontario College of Family Physicians) 

Red eyes and discharge: These symptoms almost always go away on their own, without antibiotic drops or other medication. Warm compresses and artificial tears can help reduce discomfort.  

Stuffy and runny nose: Try saline rinsing sprays, a humidifier, or a nasal aspirator.  

Earache: If you notice your child tugging on their ear, they may have an earache. Get assessed if your child’s earache lasts more than 48-72 hours, if there is discharge from the ear, or if they have had more than 2-3 ear infections in the last year.  

Cough: Treat a cough with a humidifier or steam from a shower. If the cough sounds like a bark, cool outside air may help. If your child is at least one year old, you can give them 1-2 teaspoons of honey in the evening.  

Fluids: Ensure your child gets enough fluids, including water, soups, fruit juice, or even popsicles. Breastmilk/formula is enough for young babies who do not drink other fluids. 

Stay up to date on vaccinations 

Staying up to date on COVID-19 and flu vaccines is the most effective protection for adults and kids during the respiratory illness season. To get your COVID-19 and flu vaccines, contact your local pharmacy or go to to access the current vaccination schedule. 


Media contact: 

Melissa McDermott 

Leave a Reply