Celebrate Christmas, holidays in Ottawa with immediate household only, Dr. Etches advises

Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa's medical officer of health, says 'this holiday season in 2020 will be unlike any other in our lives.'. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Ottawa’s medical officer of health is suggesting families should spend Christmas and other holidays with only their immediate households amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Though Ottawa’s rates of coronavirus infection have entered a “slow decline” in recent weeks, it’s too soon to relax public health directives to encourage in-person gatherings with friends and extended family, Dr. Vera Etches said in an update to city council on Wednesday morning.

“This holiday season in 2020 will be unlike any other in our lives,” she said.

Click to play video 'Preparing for a possible holiday season alone' Preparing for a possible holiday season alone
Preparing for a possible holiday season alone – Nov 25, 2020

Her advice for Christmas mirrors previous directives surrounding Halloween and Thanksgiving this year. Public health advice in Ottawa still allows for one or two essential supports, especially for those living alone.

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Etches encouraged residents to “create new traditions” this year. She said Ottawa Public Health will be reaching out to residents to hear about how they will be celebrating this year and sharing those ideas back to the community to give concrete ideas on how to maintain the holiday spirit.

Read more: Coronavirus Christmas: Canadians should celebrate outdoors, virtually, experts say

Orléans Coun. Matthew Luloff said Wednesday morning that his Christmas morning will include opening gifts at home over FaceTime rather than visiting with extended family in person which would put his grandmother at risk of infection.

“It is sad but it is necessary,” Luloff said in support of Etches’ directives.

OPH reported 23 cases of the novel coronavirus on Wednesday and four new deaths related to COVID-19.

Active coronavirus cases in the city dropped to 287, while the number of people in hospital with COVID-19 declined to 22 with one person in the intensive care unit.

Read more: COVID-19 disproportionately affects Ottawa’s Black residents, according to new data

In regards to the mental health impacts of the pandemic, Etches on Wednesday highlighted results from OPH’s community surveys that show parents seem to be coping “slightly better” with kids back in school as compared to the spring lockdown.

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Gaps remain, however, with some residents unsure of what resources are available to them to cope with COVID-19’s mental health impacts. Etches also noted that stigma remains around mental health, which in particular can hold back middle-aged men from seeking help.

Click to play video 'Three Brothers Project' Three Brothers Project
Three Brothers Project – Nov 10, 2020

She advised residents to touch base with each other regularly as the winter months set in and to monitor loved ones for signs of distress such as a lack of interest in usual activities.

“We can make it through the winter supporting each other,” she said.