COVID-19 will be part of our lives for 'foreseeable future': Dr. Etches

Ottawa's Medical Officer of Health Dr. Vera Etches

Ottawa’s Medical Officer of Health warns COVID-19 will be “part of our lives” for the foreseeable future and relaxing the pandemic restrictions will take time.

As Ottawa Public Health prepares to launch public consultations next week on easing the restrictions, Dr. Vera Etches says the city and its residents will need to find a balance while living with the risk of COVID-19 in the community.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday afternoon, Dr. Etches said Ottawa Public Health is engaging with City of Ottawa staff, the business community and members of the public to discuss the best ways to move forward.

Dr. Etches repeated that the relaxing of restrictions will take time, and Ottawa is not quite ready to begin easing the pandemic measures. 

“Most people are not immune to COVID-19 so when we begin to relax measures and increase our interactions with others, then there is a risk of increasing infection,” said Dr. Etches.

“COVID-19 will be part of our lives and how we live into the foreseeable future. So we need to find a balance of the risks and benefits of easing restrictions, including what we can do to mitigate those risks.”

The Medical Officer of Health says members of Ottawa’s business community have expressed a desire to ensure the opening of economic activity is done safely, “so that businesses don’t have to face closing a second time.”

She pointed out businesses have been talking about ways of operating differently, including working from home and changing the set-up of offices.

Dr. Etches noted Premier Doug Ford said earlier this week that there will be a phased approach to relaxing the restrictions.

The Ontario Government will announce the guidelines for easing the restrictions, but the Medical Officer of Health has said she will focus on setting guidelines for Ottawa.

Dr. Etches says Ottawa Public Health is looking at how other cities around the world are easing the restrictions to see what works for all sectors, including restaurants and businesses.

Ottawa Public Health and the City of Ottawa plan to release information next week to begin the discussion on easing the COVID-19 restrictions.

“Information that forms of foundation for discussion. So that would give the people in Ottawa a sense of the kinds of questions that we need to address, the kinds of safety measures and criteria that needs to be in place,” said Dr. Etches, adding residents will be able to provide feedback.

The Medical Officer of Health says the first step will outline a way forward in the context of the framework set by the Ontario Government for easing the restrictions.

“A framework for building understanding of the risks and the ways to mitigate risks, and the trade-offs we need to make.”

Residents can email healthsante@ottawa.ca with ideas on easing the COVID-19 restrictions.

On Wednesday, Dr. Etches told Council there are several things that need to be in place before the restrictions can begin to be lifted.

  • Disease transmission needs to be under control (Dr. Etches is watching hospitalization rates)
  • Hot spots minimized for vulnerable populations (retirement homes/group homes)
  • Preventive measures in schools and other centres to prevent the spread of COVID-19
  • Measures to stop new cases being imported into the community
  • Community needs to be engaged on understanding what precautions Ottawa needs to take and the priorities for learning to live “under a new normal”
  • A reliable antibody test that can show when someone has had COVID-19