Ottawa’s health-care system is again in “crisis” due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the city’s top doctor said Tuesday as the province moved to enact new stay-at-home orders to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa’s medical officer of health, told reporters that the rapid growth of coronavirus levels and hospitalizations related to COVID-19 are threatening to overwhelm the city’s health-care system — the same grave warning she gave in October when the city was seeing its last spike in COVID-19 cases.
Ottawa Public Health reported 63 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday — fewer than half of Monday’s total — but the trends on other figures are more troubling.
There are 33 people with COVID-19 in hospital in Ottawa as of Monday, 11 of which are in the intensive care unit. OPH says 91 per cent of acute care beds in local hospitals are now occupied as well as 81 per cent of beds in the ICU.
Ottawa has added 957 new COVID-19 cases in the past seven days, coronavirus per cent positivity in the city stands at 4.6 per cent, active cases hover around 1,200 and 41 local institutions — mostly care homes and a growing number of workplaces — are currently in outbreak.
“Yes, we are in crisis again,” Etches said Tuesday.
As a result, she supports the province’s efforts to reduce the number of household contacts through a series of new orders announced Tuesday that seek to limit trips from the home. People will be allowed to go out for essential reasons only, such as groceries, picking up prescriptions and attending medical appointments.
She said while the provincial orders will reduce opportunities for transmission, it’ll be down to residents’ personal behaviour to limit the spread of COVID-19.
“While these measures make rules for public spaces, it’s what we do next – our everyday, individual decisions – that will lead us out of this difficult place,” she said.
Etches acknowledged that stay-at-home orders are likely to compound pressure on parents and residents already facing high levels of stress during the pandemic’s winter months, but defended the desperate action.
“It’s not what any of us wanted, but it’s what we need to bring levels of COVID down,” she said.
Mayor Jim Watson also signalled his support for the government’s latest round of restrictions.
“We must do more to stop the spread,” he said Tuesday.
“We have a difficult number of weeks ahead of us, but I know we have what it takes.”
City bylaw officials have not received a copy of the new orders, so Anthony Di Monte, Ottawa’s head of emergency and protective services, could not provide details to reporters on how the new restrictions will be enforced.
He did say that, based on messaging from provincial officials on Tuesday, he expects the situation in Ottawa will look similar to how things were in the spring during the onset of the pandemic when residents were asked to limit all trips from their homes.
Etches said residents will still be able to get fresh air and exercise, but that trips outdoors should be kept “closer to home” and avoid crowded spaces.
She added that residents such as single parents or those who live alone should be allowed to maintain contact with essential supports.
Watson said he would like to see the province “clamp down” harder on big box stores, which he said have an “unfair advantage” over small businesses because they can use the “guise” of selling groceries to also sell non-essential products like stereos or golf clubs.
“It’s not the time to be doing that kind of shopping, crowding the store with hundreds if not thousands of people,” he said.
Watson suggested retailers such as Costco or Walmart should have to “rope off” areas of their stores that sell non-essential goods.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford said during his press conference earlier in the day on Tuesday that he would come down on big box stores “like an 800-pound gorilla.”
“If they aren’t following the protocols, if they aren’t following the guidelines, if they don’t have 50 per cent only in the stores, there’s going to be consequences for them,” he said.
The new stay-at-home orders will come into effect province-wide on Thursday at 12:01 a.m. and last for at least 28 days.
Employees who can work from home are being asked to do so, while outdoor gatherings will be limited to five people and non-essential retailers such as hardware stores and LCBOs must close by 8 p.m.