Hands using hand sanitizer (Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash)

As COVID-19 cases continue to surge in Ottawa, one thing is clear: the capital is heading in the wrong direction.

“When I hear Dr. Etches sound the alarm bell, that’s bad,” said Dr. Doug Manuel, Senior Scientist at The Ottawa Hospital. “We should be really paying attention to this.”

On Saturday, Ottawa’s top doctor warned residents that Ottawa is “deep in the red zone” and approaching grey territory.

In a statement to CTV News on Sunday, Ottawa Public Health added, “More people are testing positive, the % positivity and hospitalizations are increasing at a rapid pace, there has been an increase in the number of outbreaks and there are more close contacts per individual testing positive.”

The positivity rate in Ottawa for the week of Jan. 1 to Jan. 7 was 4.7 per cent, nearly four times the rate in mid-December. Ottawa currently has 31 active institutional outbreaks and eight active community outbreaks. There were 21 institutional outbreaks and four community outbreaks on Dec. 24, 2020.

Mayor Jim Watson also posted online, pleading with people to listen to Dr. Etches.

“It is vital that we limit our close contacts only to those we live with. If you have the ability to work from home, please do so. Only leave your home for essential reasons like grocery shopping, getting medication or exercise,” the mayor wrote.

“Things have clearly changed in Ottawa in the last week to 10 days,” said Dr. Ronald St. John, the former federal manager of the SARS response in Canada. “Perhaps reflecting Christmas and maybe the beginning of a new year’s surge.”

Ottawa Public Health confirmed 184 new infections in the capital on Sunday and said the active case count in the city has climbed to a record high of 1,202.

It comes as Ontario reported more than 3,900 new cases Sunday.

“We have to try to persuade people, emphasize the importance of following the measures and, if we need to, we need to do something more aggressive, perhaps as Quebec has done,” said Dr. St. John.

And as Ontario starts to see the impact of the new COVID-19 variant, some experts warn the worst is yet to come.

“When we model the spread of that new variant in Ontario, it makes your jaw drop,” said Dr. Manuel. “It will become the dominant variant worldwide. The question is how fast and can we get the vaccination in arms before it hits us in a major way?”

New modelling data for Ontario is expected from the province this week and the premier has warned it is shocking.

Health experts are reminding residents that now is not the time to let up, but to remain vigilant.

“Hang in there, that’s the best I can say,” said Dr. St. John. “The measures we do have will stop the virus, but it takes time.”