COVID-19 measures need to target the root cause of transmission: Dr. Etches

As Ottawa begins a second week of the modified Stage 2 COVID-19 restrictions, Ottawa's medical officer of health suggests health officials are "still wide open" on what to do next if there isn't a decline in COVID-19 transmission rates over the 28-day period.

Dr. Vera Etches says while health officials are looking at ways to target the root of COVID-19 transmission in Ottawa without affecting businesses, all residents can help out by limiting their contacts to household members only.

On Oct. 10, the Ontario Government moved Ottawa, Toronto and Peel Region to a modified Stage 2, closing indoor dining at restaurants and bars, movie theatres and gyms for at least 28 days.

CTV News at Six anchor Stefan Keyes asked Dr. Etches Saturday evening if there is any data to suggest the new restrictions have helped reduce COVID-19 transmission in the community.

"I think we need more time. The infections that are being reported now really relate to transmission that happened a couple of weeks ago. So it's too early to judge the impact of the restrictions," said Dr. Etches.

"I can tell you there's lots of thinking about how to target the root of the transmission of the virus and try to keep businesses from being affected as negatively. The root always is what brings us close together, less than two metres away from someone when we're not wearing a mask indoors. So if we can avoid those kinds of activities with people outside our household that will make a difference."

Ottawa Public Health reported 70 new cases of COVID-19 in Ottawa on Saturday, after 99 new cases on Friday. There was an average of 85 new cases of COVID-19 a day for the seven-day period of Oct. 11 to 17.

The Ontario Government has said the new COVID-19 restrictions will remain in place for at least 28 days. Keyes asked Dr. Etches what could happen at the end of the four-week period.

"Well, what we're aiming for is to see the rate of the increase in cases drop, to have a slowing down and then a decrease. That would be what we're looking for. It can take time to see these things," said Dr. Etches.

"When we went through the first wave, it really was a period of time as the curve turned before we could see the improvement in the hospitalizations, for instance. I don't expect to see a change in hospitalizations, that is unfortunately when people get into hospital they stay sometimes for more weeks."

Dr. Etches said officials also want to see a decrease in the percentage of COVID-19 tests that come back positive.  Ottawa Public Health reported on Oct. 11 that the COVID-19 positivity rate was 2.4 per cent.

"I'm feeling very sorry for the impact on businesses. We heard that this would be extremely difficult and we want to do all we can ourselves so that businesses can stay open," said Dr. Etches.

"It's important for the health of our city that people are employed and working, so I certainly feel a bit sad. But I'm still hopefully, this isn't inevitable. This curve can be turned and so I'm looking to see that impact over the coming weeks."

The medical officer of health was asked during CTV News at Six Saturday evening if there was a data threshold that could trigger an extension of the COVID-19 restrictions for bars, restaurants, gyms, indoor sports and movie theatres.

"I think we're still wide open on all of the possibilities of what to do next, in conversation with the province. We want to minimize hospitalizations and deaths, and we certainly are seeing a lot of outbreaks start up because of the level of COVID in our community," said Dr. Etches.

"We need to bring the level down. We know we need to tackle where transmission is happening and what the biggest contributions are, so it's not as simple as looking at an extension or not. We want to learn from this period about what the impact is.