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‘Smart distancing’ could prevent second wave of coronavirus in Ottawa, officials say

Ottawa health officials say residents need not fear a second wave of the novel coronavirus if physical distancing and other health directives are still followed.
Ottawa health officials say residents need not fear a second wave of the novel coronavirus if physical distancing and other health directives are still followed. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Niels Christian Vilmann/Ritzau Scanpix via AP

As infection rates of the novel coronavirus appear to creep up again across the rest of the province, Ottawa health officials say the nation’s capital can avoid a resurgence of COVID-19 hospitalizations if residents remain “smart” amid reopening measures.

Ottawa Public Health reported 17 new lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Friday afternoon, bringing the city’s total up to 1,885 heading into the weekend.

There were also nine more deaths related to the virus in the past 24 hours, raising Ottawa’s pandemic death toll to 220.

The number of people in hospital with COVID-19 stands at 44, with two patients in intensive care — down from 23 roughly five weeks ago.

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But across Ontario, new daily case numbers have, overall, been steadily climbing over the past week with 441 new cases reported in the province on Friday.

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Despite newly-relaxed guidelines encouraging anyone in Ontario with even mild symptoms to present for testing, the volume of tests across the province is down.

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Dr. Doug Manuel, an epidemiologist with the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, told local media during a call Friday that the city has done an effective job in flattening the first wave of the virus locally, but the “credit” Ottawans earned through physical distancing in the past few months is “very tenuous.”

Whether Ottawa faces a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic is not guaranteed, Manuel said — it relies fully on residents’ behaviour from this point forward.

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With warmer weather and looser restrictions on outdoor parks and amenities in Ottawa, there might be a temptation in some residents to be less careful when it comes to public health directives such as physical distancing, handwashing and wearing a non-medical mask when in public.

Manuel coined a different term to describe how Ottawa residents ought to behave as retailers reopen and residents look to socialize in parks: “smart distancing.”

“The question is: How can we get back and move around without connecting physically?” he said.

“Can we go to the park, play soccer, but not be physically close? That’s the challenge.”

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Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa’s medical officer of health, noted that officials and residents alike are still learning to live with the virus in the community.

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Etches said Friday that when Ottawa Public Health identifies a new case of the virus, it is now usually tracing contact with fewer than five people, usually within the individual’s household.

Back in March, OPH was contacting between 15 to 20 people per case.

Etches noted however that if the number of contacts per case rises by even 20 per cent, hospitalizations related to the virus in Ottawa are expected to increase again.

“We don’t have a lot of wiggle room if we’re not being smart,” Manuel said.