Family, social and workplace gatherings continue to fuel COVID-19, warns Ottawa Medical Officer of Health

Claudia Piñeiro smiling for the camera: Dr. Vera Etches

© Jean Levac
Dr. Vera Etches

Ottawans still have “blind spots” around socializing with others that are helping spread COVID-19, warns Medical Officer of Health Vera Etches.


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She cited several examples: People getting together with extended family, eating lunch with colleagues, carpooling and socializing after team sports.

Most transmission of the virus happens when people are in close contact with someone outside their household, Etches said at a media conference. However, people tend to relax when they are around friends or colleagues, she said.

Etches said that some may view carpooling or meeting up with extended family in a different light than going to a gym or bar. Both activities can spread the virus, though.

Anyone who is visiting a loved one or hanging out with a friend without physical distancing should consider whether they can do the activity in a safer way, she said.

Since Ottawa moved to a modified Stage 2 of the province’s pandemic plan on Oct. 10, indoor dining at restaurants and bars is not allowed, and gyms and cinemas are closed.

People eating lunch with their colleagues at work is a consistent source of transmission, said Etches. On Tuesday, Ottawa Public Health reported two active outbreaks in workplaces, and 10 closed outbreaks for a total of 146 cases and one death.

Keep a mask on indoors at work and stay two metres away from others while eating there, Etches advised.

She issued a reminder that it’s possible to have COVID-19 and have no symptoms or even mild ones. “If you are in close contact, that’s a risk, even when it’s your colleagues. That is occurring more than it should be.”

A survey by Ottawa Health found that respondents said it was difficult to keep within a social circle of 10 people, given they have large families and kids in school, said Etches.

Her comments about the need for physical distancing and mask-wearing were echoed earlier in the day by Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott, who added that people in Ontario should avoid non-essential trips outside their households.

At the same time, Etches said there are encouraging signs that the rapid increase in the level of COVID-19 in Ottawa seen during the first two weeks of October has stopped.

The number of people testing positive is “trending downward more consistently,” she said.

chart, histogram:  This shows new cases in Ottawa, which hit a high of 174 new cases on Oct. 7 but have trended downward since then, with 58 new cases reported on Oct. 27.

This shows new cases in Ottawa, which hit a high of 174 new cases on Oct. 7 but have trended downward since then, with 58 new cases reported on Oct. 27.


Etches said she suspects that Ottawa’s move to modified Stage 2 has helped slow transmission of the virus.

“It’s possible that closures have made a difference,” Etches said, noting that the rate of COVID-19 among people in their 20s has come down the most quickly. That’s the age group most likely to go to bars and restaurants.

However, the number of new cases of COVID-19 in Ottawa is still too high to prevent the kind of outbreaks that are happening in the city, said Etches.

Ottawa Health reported Tuesday that there was one new outbreak at a health-care institution, bringing the total active outbreaks to 44. There were no new outbreaks reported at child-care centres and schools, which have 12 ongoing outbreaks.

On Tuesday, Ottawa Health reported 58 new COVID-19 cases.

By the Numbers

Ottawa as reported on Oct. 26

58: New cases

706: Active cases

6,694: Total confirmed cases

5,671: Resolved cases

0: New deaths

317: Total deaths

44: In hospital

4: In ICU

23,945: Number of tests

Ontario, as of Oct. 26

827: new cases

72,051: Total cases

4: New deaths

3,103 : Total deaths

312: hospitalized

75: In ICU

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