Watson proposes crackdown on gatherings as COVID-19 numbers rise

In the face of a significant rise in new positive COVID-19 case numbers in the nation's capital, Ottawa's mayor is proposing a stiff crackdown on private gatherings, which are getting the blame for the rise in transmission.

OPH reported 52 new cases of COVID-19 in Ottawa on Tuesday along with four new deaths, and 61 new cases and one new death on Monday. 

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said he will be making announcements over the next day or two to about measures to help slow the spread of COVID-19 in the province's hotspots, including Ottawa.

Speaking on Newstalk 580 CFRA's "Ottawa Now with Kristy Cameron", Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said he's pushing for a lower limit on indoor gatherings in private residences.

"I told (Premier Ford) we need to see those numbers go down. Right now, under provincial regulations you can have 50 people in a private residence and 100 people outside. Well, unless you own a mansion, 50 people is really crammed, as is 100 people in the back yard," he said.

The gathering limits in place provincially assumed that capacity would be limited by the space to physically distance, but Watson said it appears people are not heeding the message.

"People seem to think, 'I'm allowed to have 100 people, I'll invite 100 people over,' and the virus spreads quickly in those close quarters."

Watson is calling for a limit of 10 people indoors for private gatherings and 20 outdoors. He said his suggestion would apply to private residences and not to businesses such as banquet halls, restaurants, gyms and bars, which he says are following the rules.

Watson also said the time for warnings has passed.

"People are in breach of the law and they're going to receive a ticket and it's going to hit them hard in the pocketbook," he said. "We're not fooling around. The numbers are going in the wrong direction. We need to get those numbers down and one of the ways of doing that is to actually come down through by-law and through police and issue these tickets to smarten people up."

Limit close contacts to limit spread: Dr. Etches

Ottawa's Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Vera Etches, is also repeating her calls to limit close contacts and practice pandemic hygiene measures, including physical distancing, mask use, handwashing, and staying home when sick.

"We must limit our close contacts," she told reporters at a virtual press conference on Tuesday. "Close contacts are people that we see, particularly indoors, without masks on, where physical distance of two metres is not kept, for at least 15 minutes."

While it takes time to investigate sources for each new case, especially as numbers rise, Dr. Etches pointed to private social gatherings as the source for many.

"Parties, but not just parties. It's gathering for a drink after work. It's having some family get-togethers where you might come into close contact with multiple people," she said. "We all need to reassess our behaviours. Ask yourself, how many close contacts have you had recently? Are you potentially connected to a long chain of transmission? We’ve seen how just one person with cold-like symptoms who attends a small get-together can lead to 40 people testing positive in a short period of time."

With demand for testing increasing for families with children in school, Dr. Etches asked people who are seeking tests while not having any symptoms or reasonable history of exposure—for example, those who want to attend a social function but want to prove they're negative first—to not seek a test and to reconsider participating in large social events.

"If you are uncomfortable and feel you need a test because of some of your exposures, stop engaging in those behaviours that gave you exposure to someone within two metres, indoors, without a mask. That will give you peace of mind," she said. "If you practice those behaviours (physical distancing, wearing a mask, meeting outdoors), you're not likely to pick up the COVID virus."