‘Soon, but not just yet’: Ottawa’s top doctor says city not in a position to lift the current COVID-19 restrictions

OTTAWA — Ottawa’s top doctor says while there are “encouraging” signs with the capital’s COVID-19 indicators, the city is not yet in a position to begin lifting public health measures in place to limit the spread of novel coronavirus.

And Dr. Vera Etches wants the Ontario government to proceed “slowly” on reopening activities and businesses when the stay-at-home order ends next month, beginning with an emphasis on outdoor activities.

The Ontario government extended the Provincial Orders and the stay-at-home order until June 2 in a bid to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Speaking with reporters on Wednesday, Dr. Etches said the stay-at-home order and public health measures are working.

“Our COVID-19 monitoring indicators are showing positive signs. We are seeing fewer people test positive for COVID-19, per cent positivity is down through not low,” said Etches. “We are seeing fewer outbreaks and fewer hospitalizations.”

Etches says the COVID-19 indicators are “encouraging,” but residents need to continue practising all COVID-19 public health measures to limit the spread of the virus.

“We are not yet in a position where we can begin to lift the public health measures currently in place,” said Etches. “Soon, but not yet.”

Ottawa moved into the lockdown on April 3 due to rising COVID-19 cases. On April 8, the Ontario government issued a stay-at-home order, requiring everyone to remain at home except for essential reasons.

“We will need to ease slowly into activities as vaccination coverage grows,” said Dr. Etches.

“Looking to the months ahead, I can tell you while it won’t be a normal summer, we will likely see more restrictions lifted as these trends continue. It could be a summer like last year where small, outdoor gatherings are permitted, we could see the resumptions of outdoor recreational activities, and we could have greater confidence about growing the size of gatherings as vaccination coverage increases and COVID-19 remains under control.”

As of Wednesday, 53 per cent of Ottawa residents had received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

“I do want to make this very clear; public health measures like masking, maintaining physical distancing, getting tested when you have symptoms that could be COVID and handwashing will remain in place,” said Etches.

On Wednesday, the Ontario government hinted the province will move away from a “regionalized approach” for lifting the COVID-19 measures and instead pursue a “sector-by-sector” reopening strategy. Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said the approach would allow different kinds of businesses to gradually reopen based on risk. 

Health Minister Christine Elliott said the government will outline plans for a full reopening “very soon.”

Etches says she hasn’t been involved in any detailed conversations with Ontario health officials about reopening sectors when the stay-at-home order ends. CTV News Ottawa asked Dr. Etches what would she like to see reopen as vaccinations increase and COVID-19 cases decrease.

“I think the emphasis to begin with would ideally be on outdoor activities. Really enabling people to start to connect outdoors, where the risk of COVID transmission is greatly reduced,” said Etches.

“So that may be getting back to some of the recreational activities outdoors, you could see it moving on to patios outdoors – always needing to pay attention to where there’s a risk created of going indoors or coming into close contact with people outside of our households. And then monitor and see, we’re tolerating this.”

Dr. Etches says as things gradually reopen, it will be important to monitor COVID-19 transmission in the community.

“Usually it takes a couple of weeks to see if there’s any upward pressure on COVID-19 transmission, so proceeding slowly step-by-step.”

With files from CP 24’s Chris Fox and CTV Toronto’s Colin D’Mello

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