Top News

'We need to bend the curve down, now': Ottawa's top doctor takes decisive action as cases spike

Dr. Vera Etches,  Ottawa medical officer of health.
Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa medical officer of health.

Facing down the largest-ever one day spike in local COVID-19 cases as fears of a potentially crushing second wave mount, the city’s top public health official took decisive steps Tuesday to try, once again, to flatten the curve.

Ottawa’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Vera Etches invoked an order under the Health Protection and Promotion Act requiring anyone with a confirmed case of COVID-19, signs and symptoms of the disease, close contact with a confirmed case, a pending test result, or “reasonable grounds to believe they have COVID-19,” to isolate for 14 days or until COVID-19 is ruled out, and to provide information about one’s close contacts to public health as soon as it’s requested.

The Section 22 order – and fines of $5,000 for every day of non-compliance – will target “the increasing non-adherence with the basic prevention measures such as staying home when you have symptoms,” Etches said.

“I don’t take these types of decisions lightly; however, I must do everything possible to reduce the transmission that is currently occurring in Ottawa.”

Hours earlier, in separate press conferences, the spectre of a fall and winter of spiralling case counts and further restrictions was raised by Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Canada’s top public health official, Dr. Theresa Tam.

The second wave will ”“come at us harder than the last one,” Ford said.

“We know that a second wave is coming, we know that it will be more complicated than the first wave, we know it will be more challenging on the system. What we don’t know is how bad it will be, how hard we will get hit. Because that’s up to all of us, we all have a part to play,” he said.

Tam warned the country is now at a crossroads, with the possibility of a major resurgence of the virus. She said without a decrease in people’s contacts, the epidemic will bounce back faster and stronger, as contagious people spread the virus.

In Ottawa, Etches said the level of COVID-19 in the community has reached a point where the overarching goals of the public health pandemic response – preventing societal disruption, hospitalizations and death – are being stymied.

On Tuesday, Ottawa Public Health reported 93 new cases of COVID-19 (the highest-ever daily total, locally) and three new deaths. Ontario’s largest active outbreak of the virus in a long-term care home is playing out in Ottawa, with at least 92 cases and 11 resident deaths at West End Villa.

Already, one local school has been forced to close because of a COVID-19 outbreak, while 33 others have at least one confirmed case, according to OPH. The lineups for COVID-19 testing in Ottawa have become a national news story, and test results are seeing delays of up to a week because of the sheer number of swabs being collected.

Lowering community transmission is critical to keeping the virus out of schools and long-term care homes, Etches explained, where COVID-19 infection can mean major disruptions in the lives of families, and in the case of vulnerable LTC residents, a serious risk of death

“We need to bend the curve down, now.”

To that end, she encouraged everyone to restrict close contact to members of their own households, and “essential supports” – child care providers, grandparents, or neighbours, for example. While she’s used the language before, there was no mention Tuesday of the province’s designated 10-person “social circle” model.

“When I look at what we’re seeing and people’s behaviour,” Etches said, “I don’t think the social circle concept has worked out.

“The simple message that I’m going back to, and it’s been actually the same all along – fewer is better. Limit your close contacts.”

While Ottawa Public Health does not lead local COVID-19 testing operations, Etches also made recommendations Tuesday for the hospitals and health-care partners charged with this work. Coordinate your communications and establish a centralized website with critical information about the operations of Ottawa’s testing sites, she advised. Right now, many Ottawans only find out when a testing centre has reached its maximum daily capacity by visiting different hospitals’ Twitter accounts.

Etches also recommended expanding the operating hours of testing sites to 12 hours a day, seven days a week, and prioritizing testing for those with symptoms or a public health referral.

Anyone who wants a test is allowed to get one in Ontario, and provincial political leaders haven’t hesitated to encourage this, even as OPH flagged strain on its system by those without symptoms or close contact with a confirmed case seeking testing.

On Tuesday, Etches called universal testing “an aspirational goal that we want to keep working towards,” but one that presents a challenge currently when people who urgently need test results – parents, whose symptoms are keeping their kids away from school, for example – are facing long delays in getting them back because lab capacity to process tests remains limited.

The Ontario government has promised that work to expand testing capacity is ongoing, and forms a key pillar of the provincial plan for responding to a second wave of COVID-19 in the fall. Details of that plan, titled Keeping Ontarians Safe: Preparing for Future Waves of COVID-19, are being released this week, in piecemeal chunks.

“This is a massive, massive plan, it’s very robust, jammed with items. If we lay it all down at once, the message isn’t going to get out to the people,” said Ford.

Tuesday’s provincial announcement revealed plans for “the largest flu immunization campaign in Ontario’s history.”

Later announcements are expected to cover the continued expansion of COVID-19 testing; outbreak management; efforts to reduce heath service backlogs on an accelerated timeline; COVID-19 surge preparation; and the recruitment and retention of health care workers.

On Wednesday evening, in a rare move, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is scheduled to address the nation about the government’s effort to fight COVID-19.

Figures through Monday, Sept. 21, 2020
Ottawa

93 New cases
539 Active cases
3,772 Total cases
11 Hospitalized
2 In ICU
3 New deaths
279 Total deaths
2,954 Cases resolved
25 Institutional outbreaks

Ontario

478 New cases
3,578 Active cases
47,752 Total cases
82 Hospitalized
24 In ICU
3 New deaths
2,832 Total deaths
41,342 Cases resolved

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

Did this story inform or enhance your perspective on this subject?
1 being least likely, and 10 being most likely

Recent Stories