“I have something really important that I need you to hear. Our health system is in crisis because of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
That was the message from Ottawa’s medical officer of health on Friday as the city reported 142 new cases of the novel coronavirus, shattering the previous record of 105 new infections set just a few days prior.
The rate at which Ottawa residents are testing positive for the virus is unsustainable, Dr. Vera Etches said in a rare morning press conference to address the COVID-19 situation in Ottawa.
She urged everyone in the city to limit their close contacts to their household and one or two essential supports, lest the city’s health-care infrastructure collapse.
“I am sounding the alarm. This is our warning bell. With this spike, we have entered crisis territory,” she said.
Her remarks come as Ontario also set a new daily record with 732 new coronavirus cases and Premier Doug Ford announced new restrictions would be coming to Ottawa, Toronto and Peel Region — so-called “hotspot areas” — to curb the spread of the virus.
Starting Saturday at 12:01 a.m., restaurants, nightclubs and bars in Ottawa will be limited to 100 people and a maximum of six to a table.
Gyms and banquet halls will each be limited to 50 people in the facility, with the same table limits for halls and a maximum of 10 people per group exercise class.
Across Ontario, masks will become mandatory indoors and, as of Oct. 6, COVID-19 assessment centres in the province will move to an appointment-based booking system.
The backlog of tests waiting to be processed across Ontario has now surpassed 90,000, which Etches said Friday is leaving some people waiting for more than a week for their results.
That’s delaying Ottawa Public Health’s contact tracing efforts, as staff are reaching out to contacts who might have been going about their lives for days with no knowledge they might have been exposed to the virus.
Hospitalizations related to COVID-19 have also doubled in the past 10 days, she said, a dangerous trend that could see hospitals soon overwhelmed.
If Ottawa continues in this direction, the city will see daily increases of 200 new coronavirus cases well before mid-October, Etches said.
She added that before long, businesses and schools could be forced to close again to stem the spread of the virus.
While Etches said she is against Ottawa moving back to Stage 2, as such a shift could imperil businesses and the life savings of some residents, she said she has been in discussion with provincial officials about targeted restrictions that could help send the message about reducing close contacts.
“Ottawa as a collective is not doing enough in the area of prevention,” Etches said.
Lineups for testing at Ottawa’s assessment centres appear to be improving following weeks of sites regularly hitting capacity as soon as doors opened.
Etches said she has heard from testing partners in the city that lineups have decreased following the changes to provincial guidance discouraging asymptomatic residents from getting tested.
In an effort to reduce the overwhelming demand for coronavirus testing locally, Ottawa’s top doctor had been asking asymptomatic residents to avoid getting tested well ahead of the province’s shift in guidance.
Etches said OPH attempts to align its messaging with the province as much as possible, but that residents should follow the local public health unit for the most direct advice, as provincial officials must address all of Ontario with more general advice than is warranted in hot spots such as Ottawa.
“Our provincial leaders have the challenge that what needs to be done in Ottawa is different from what needs to be done in Thunder Bay,” she said.
Hospitalizations spike on Friday
OPH’s daily coronavirus report shows the number of people in hospital with COVID-19 jumped to 24 on Friday from 17 the day before. Four of those patients are now in the intensive care unit.
OPH’s COVID-19 dashboard shows 99 per cent of acute care beds in Ottawa’s health-care system are now occupied.
Two more people have died in connection with COVID-19 in Ottawa, raising the city’s death toll of the pandemic to 291.
There are now 767 active cases of the virus in Ottawa, a substantial jump from the day before.
A new COVID-19 outbreak was declared at the Rideau Place retirement residence where one staff member has tested positive for the virus.
No new outbreaks were reported at any Ottawa schools on Friday.
Monsignor Paul Baxter, the first school in Ottawa to close due to an outbreak, said late Thursday it has been cleared by OPH to reopen on Monday, Oct. 5.
The number of ongoing outbreaks in Ottawa institutions now stands at 45.
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