Ottawa’s medical officer of health says the people of Ottawa and its government need to consider the possibility that COVID-19 will be in our community over the long-term, and adapt our everyday activities accordingly.
“We need to approach the next year, maybe two years, having the virus in our community and becoming better able to going back to work, back to school, go about our businesses that we need in a way that still decreases the risk of COVID-19,” Dr. Vera Etches told city council on Wednesday.
Dr. Etches says case counts have been stable over the past two weeks, but added 42 per cent of cases outside of institutional outbreaks have no known link to another known case, travel, or any other source, which suggests community transmission is still happening.
However, Dr. Etches said the people of Ottawa have done well in keeping transmission low. Hospitalizations are down, and there are few institutional outbreaks. There have been three new outbreaks declared in the month of July, with one to two cases each, which Dr. Etches says is another sign that the virus is circulating in the community.
Dr. Etches outlined three scenarios for managing the virus as Ottawa enters Stage 3.
The first is a best-case scenario, in which new case counts remain low, which would allow for the gradual expansion of social circles. Under this scenario, there may be occasional outbreaks, but they will be manageable.
The second scenario shows periodic peaks, which may require a return to increased restrictions.
“I don’t think anyone expects the people to go back to shutting everything down like happened in March,” Dr. Etches said. “As we live with COVID, we have to figure out what are those measures that are reasonable and feasible for us to be able to adapt if those cases occur.”
The third scenario is a worst-case scenario, where a major spike is seen, as has been the case in other jurisdiction, like many American states.
“We have to prepare for the worst, as well,” Dr. Etches said. “Health-care systems have been using this time to build up capacity to handle more cases. this may require, again, re-emphasizing the good practices of physical distancing, wearing a mask indoors, as well as potentially going back to limiting contacts.”
City Council is voting on a mandatory mask by-law that mirrors the public health order Dr. Etches issued last week. She says the evidence for mask use has been growing over the course of the pandemic.
“Previously, when we were all at home, it was like the house was our mask, keeping our respiratory secretions to ourselves. Now that we’re going out, we need a mask to keep our secretions to ourselves.”