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Ottawa enters ‘red’ on COVID-19 warning system as hospitalizations, outbreaks spike

Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa's medical officer of health, spoke to city council on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020 as the city entered the "red" zone of Ottawa Public Health's COVID-19 warning system.
Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa's medical officer of health, spoke to city council on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020 as the city entered the "red" zone of Ottawa Public Health's COVID-19 warning system. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Ottawa has entered the most dire status on its COVID-19 warning system amid surging levels of outbreaks and hospitalizations related to the novel coronavirus in the city.

Ottawa Public Health’s COVID-19 dashboard shows the city has escalated to “red” after spending most of the pandemic in the “orange” warning zone.

The shift comes amid surging positivity rates of COVID-19 in Ottawa and signs the city’s health-care system is struggling to cope.

Read more: Ottawa wedding results in 22 COVID-19 cases, hundreds self-isolating, OPH says

Per capita, Ottawa has posted the highest positivity rate for the novel coronavirus of any region in Ontario over the past two weeks, Dr. Vera Etches told city council in her verbal update Wednesday morning.

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Ottawa has reported 70 people testing positive for the virus per 100,000 persons in the past two weeks compared to 67 per 100,000 residents in Toronto, she said.

Ottawa, Toronto and Peel Region were all moved back to a modified Stage 2 on Friday that saw the closure of indoor dining, gyms and cinemas for the next 28 days.

Asked during council why Ottawa is seeing higher infection rates, Etches said it’s likely linked to the city being the largest municipality to enter Stage 3 of reopening in the initial cohort of regions back in August.

While Toronto and areas struggling in the pandemic were held back, Ottawa was given the green light early on, which residents took as a cue to relax and increase their social connections, Etches said.

“That started the increase. And it kept going. This virus grows quickly if given the chance,” she said.

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She also pointed to the proximity to Quebec as a factor putting the National Capital Region at higher risk. The Outaouais region was also added to the province’s red zone classification over the long weekend.

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Quebec moves three more regions into red alert level as cases rise' Coronavirus: Quebec moves three more regions into red alert level as cases rise
Coronavirus: Quebec moves three more regions into red alert level as cases rise – Oct 13, 2020

Etches said in her previous update to city council on Sept. 23 that Ottawa was “close” to red, but the one metric that had kept the city in orange was the stability of hospitalizations related to the virus.

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Then, only 13 people were in hospitalization with COVID-19, three of whom were in intensive care.

As of Tuesday, 48 people were in hospital with the virus and five were in the ICU.

OPH’s COVID-19 dashboard shows 99 per cent of acute care beds are occupied and 44 per cent of ICU beds are currently filled.

The rate of new coronavirus outbreaks in long-term care homes and other institutions is also troubling, Etches said Wednesday.

The number of new outbreaks reported in the city last week were double the number the week before.

There are currently 77 open outbreaks in Ottawa, more than three times the amount a month ago, Etches added.

There have been 24 outbreaks in Ottawa schools to date, with 12 considered active as of Wednesday.

Etches also pointed to the usefulness of tracking the virus through Ottawa’s wastewater data as a useful metric when testing is subject to backlogs and accessibility problems, though she noted assessment centres in the city currently have availability through the new online booking system.

The CHEO Research Institute and the University of Ottawa have been sampling fecal matter in the local wastewater system for signs of the virus as an early indicator of the levels of infection in the city.

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Wastewater data as of Oct. 12 shows an exponential spike in the level of viral signal found in Ottawa samples, suggesting that, even as Ottawa reports a lower number of new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, the local trend in infections is still showing an upwards trajectory.

Data from CHEO Research Institute and the University of Ottawa shows a spike in viral signal detected in the city’s wastewater samples, as of Oct. 12
Data from CHEO Research Institute and the University of Ottawa shows a spike in viral signal detected in the city’s wastewater samples, as of Oct. 12. 613covid.ca

Ottawa reported 45 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, a steep drop from the 116 recorded on Tuesday. There have now been 5,707 cases of the virus in Ottawa since the start of the pandemic, with 767 now considered active.

Roughly 32,200 tests were processed across Ontario in the past 24 hours, compared to recent daily levels reporting more than 40,000 tests. The province reported 721 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday.

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