Closing more businesses could prevent COVID-19 outbreaks, Ottawa’s top doc says

Ottawa's Dr. Vera Etches believes limiting the stores allowed to open in Ontario's third wave of COVID-19 to food and health services providers will help slow the spread of the virus. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Ottawa’s medical officer of health believes shortening the list of businesses allowed to open during the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is a more effective way for the city to limit the spread of the virus than other regions in Ontario moving to shut down specific sites facing large outbreaks.

The top doctors of Toronto and Peel Region both issued Section 22 orders this week to close any workplace reporting an outbreak with five or more cases of COVID-19.

Dr. Vera Etches said Wednesday that Ottawa will not follow suit.

Click to play video: 'Toronto, Peel Region order workplaces with 5+ COVID-19 cases to close'
Toronto, Peel Region order workplaces with 5+ COVID-19 cases to close

Etches said during a media availability with other local officials that the number of businesses reporting five or more workers testing positive for the coronavirus is “limited.” She said a lab, a gym, two transportation operations, two construction companies and five restaurants offering takeout are the sites reporting outbreaks of that magnitude in Ottawa.

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Etches said the “Ottawa pattern” sees “multiple, smaller outbreaks” rather than a few large, problematic ones.

She expressed confidence that Ottawa Public Health’s contact tracing team is still effective at following up with these businesses, which have to report any instances of two or more connected cases in the workplace, in order to limit further spread of COVID-19.

Etches pointed to outbreaks affecting take restaurants, offices and recreational settings as areas where COVID-19 is spreading in Ottawa.

At the direction of the Ottawa Board of Health, she has written to the province requesting Ontario pare down the list of what businesses are deemed essential to operate in the third wave. The final result could, she said, see a situation similar to the beginning of the pandemic where food and health providers were among the few businesses allowed to open.

But if the province does not heed her request, she floated the possibility of issuing her own Section 22 order to fill in the gaps she sees in Ottawa’s pandemic response.

Read more: Masks now mandatory at Ottawa playgrounds, some young kids exempt

Etches said she wanted to give residents “hope” on Wednesday that recent efforts to stay home and limit the transmission of COVID-19 have begun to bear fruit.

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OPH reported 181 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday — the second consecutive day of case counts below 200. Active COVID-19 cases in the city are down to 3,239.

“Measures are working in Ottawa,” Etches said. “Please, take encouragement from this and continue doing what you’re doing.”

While she said recent declining case counts are not “sufficient” to show the curve is flattening in Ottawa — lower testing volumes as of late limit the scope these metrics provide on the pandemic — a few areas are showing marked improvement.

Data from the city’s wastewater system is showing a slight decline in viral levels and hospitalizations, while still at precarious highs, are showing “a little bit of stabilization.”

There are currently 118 Ottawa residents hospitalized locally with COVID-19 and 27 in the intensive care unit.

These figures do not include patient transfers from overwhelmed ICUs elsewhere in the province, but Etches said Wednesday the city has received roughly 20 patients from the GTA recently.

Read more: Hundreds of COVID-19 ICU patient transfers planned as Ontario braces for ‘horrific’ 2 weeks

Among the other positive indicators is Ottawa’s reproduction number, or R, which is below one now for the first time since the end of February. This figure refers to the average number of people testing positive in connection to a typical case of COVID-19, with a value of less than one indicating spread is slowing.

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While figures such as Ottawa’s incidence rate and seven-day average of COVID-19 cases have declined this week, the city’s positivity rate is at a new high of 11.7 per cent.

Etches also cautioned Wednesday, however, that low testing volumes also skew the reliability of these figures.

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: Ontario lacking critical care nurses amid 3rd wave'
COVID-19: Ontario lacking critical care nurses amid 3rd wave

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