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Recent spike in Ottawa COVID-19 cases 'our warning bell', says medical officer of health

(Via Ottawa Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Vera Etches on October 2, 2020)

I have something really important I need you to hear. Our health system is in crisis because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

I am thankful for all you are doing to prevent COVID from spreading in our city. Individual actions matter. I know that Ottawa residents of every age are under an incredible amount of stress and strain every day, at school, at work, and are just trying their best to makes their lives as normal as possible in what often feels like the most impossible of times.

However, today I am reporting that 142 new people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Ottawa, and hospitalizations linked to COVID-19 are on the rise. We will hit 200 way before mid-October if this rate of increase continues. This is not good. We must do better.

There are many moving pieces in our delicate health system, and while Ottawa Public Health is not in charge of most of them, as your Medical Officer of Health, I believe you need to understand what things look like from where I sit.

The pressure on the health system is coming from the number of times COVID is being passed on when people are in close contact. If we continue to come into close contact with people outside our households and one or two essential supports, without wearing a mask, or if we continue to see friends and family when we’re sick, Ottawa’s health system crisis will only get worse.


Preventing the spread of COVID is within all of our power – it is the collective actions of every individual that will make a real difference. Prevention is one of Ottawa Public Health’s primary roles, to provide information and provide supports and guidance to empower individuals to make informed choices for themselves and their families.

Ottawa Public Health is working with community agencies and the City to ensure people who need to isolate are supported. An isolation centre exists for people who are precariously housed and work is underway to create a second isolation centre for people where self-isolation may be challenging in a crowded living environment.

Currently, based on data from the last few weeks including today’s record number, Ottawa as a collective is not doing enough in the area of prevention.

Testing and contact tracing

After prevention, testing and contact tracing is used to limit transmission of the COVID-19 virus. This system is nearly broken. The volume of people seeking testing is putting a strain on every part of the detection and contact tracing process: there are not enough trained professionals to staff facilities, the laboratories have reached the limits of their machines and human resource capacities and test swabs waiting for analysis are sitting backlogged for over a week. This in turn puts public health staff behind on following up with those who test positive for COVID-19 and their close contacts, resulting in people going out into the community who may have COVID-19 without knowing it. The contact tracing team is having to prioritize follow-up with how fast the virus is spreading in our community.

There is a plan underway to increase testing and tracing capacity. Laboratories are receiving new machines and working to hire people, OPH is automating some aspects of case and contact follow-up and continuing to add to the team, but these processes take time.

Acute and long-term care

Hospitals are the service we need available, not only when the virus makes people very sick - and the number of hospitalizations has jumped today - but for other critical care. People have put off surgeries and other medial support and are presenting with greater needs in greater numbers now. Hospitals’ capacity is limited to beds available and professionally trained staff which are stretched to maximum right now.

Some of the pressure on hospitals comes from the lack of capacity in long-term care. People are not able to leave hospital when the number of beds and staff are at lower levels in the long-term care system.

The lack of staff in long-term care and retirement homes is very concerning when it has an impact on their ability to control the outbreaks that we see are rising in number. We do not want to see loved ones die in these settings.

Again, plans are underway to create more hospital beds, staff and personal support workers in long-term care homes, which will make a difference, but these are not going to be immediately in place. The entire system is under pressure, and new resources for any of these components take weeks or months, not days to be in place.

What can be done quickly is changing our behaviour. All residents and visitors to Ottawa, need to be doing OUR part. Prevention.

As individuals, we can act NOW to take pressure off the system which is on the edge of collapse. Data shows COVID-19 is spreading too fast in Ottawa because of everyday actions that bring too many of us in close contact with others without masks on. We are falling behind. Prevention is the only way now, TODAY, that we can slow the crisis in the rest of our health system.

As Ottawa’s Medical Officer of Health , I’m sounding the alarm. This is our warning bell. With this spike, we have entered crisis territory and if we do not slow the transmission, it will lead to stricter lockdown, closure of businesses, public venues and even schools. Nobody wants this. I do not want this. Closures have a very negative impact on the health of individuals and our community.

We have seen in other parts of the country where regional leadership have had to announce serious restrictions and consequences on activities and movements. We don’t want to go there unless we have to. Ottawa, we CAN still change course if we make those small choices today, change our behaviours and limit our close contacts to those within our household plus one or two essential supports. When you do have to be out in public, remember the basics: wear a mask, stay home when sick, stay two metres apart from others and wash your hands.

Earlier this week we spoke to where transmission is occurring in our community. It is everywhere, in every neighbourhood, and it is our individual ACTIONS that are driving the spread, regardless of setting.

Please, if you have plans to gather with friends or acquaintances this weekend, I’m asking you to reconsider. Our healthcare system…our school system…. our economy… our loved ones… are all counting on you. Thank you for doing your part.

Updated screening tool for students

Yesterday the Province updated their online screening tool for students. We are also updating our screening tool to make sure it aligns.

Symptoms are now divided into 2 categories. The first category of symptoms are those highly associated with COVID-19 and children with these symptoms will be advised to isolate at home and get tested, as well all household members will be advised to also self-isolate.

The second category of symptoms are those that are commonly associated with other illnesses, such as a runny nose or headache. Depending on the number of symptoms chosen, the direction will either be for the child and household members to stay home for at least 24 hours from when the symptom started and no testing recommended (1 symptom) OR child needs to go for testing and all household members also need to self-isolate until a test result is received for the symptomatic child (2 or more symptoms).

The updated tool will be ready for parents to use before school starts on Monday. Please continue to use this tool every morning before sending your child to school.

This road has been very long already but please, we need to keep going and continue to act in small ways every hour of every day to limit the transmission of COVID.

I believe in Ottawa. I believe in us. We can support each other to keep close contacts at a minimum. We have each other’s backs. And we will get through this difficult time.

Thank you. Merci. Meegwetch.