Top doctor delivers stark message amid rising COVID-19 cases in Ottawa

Dr. Vera Etches during a City of Ottawa briefing on COVID-19 vaccinations on March 3, 2021.

Ottawa's medical officer of health delivered a stark message on social media on Sunday as COVID-19 cases continue to surge in the nation's capital.

Dr. Vera Etches tweeted that two weeks after moving into the "Red-Control" zone under Ontario's COVID-19 framework, "the curve has only worsened."

Ottawa saw its highest-ever daily case count on Saturday, with 240 new positive cases, and the city posted another 198 cases on Sunday.

Since moving to the red zone on March 19, Ottawa's number of COVID-19 patients in hospital has more than doubled, and the number of people in the ICU has tripled.

"I am seeing many people test positive after being in groups at restaurants, with transmission even outdoors," Etches said. "COVID-19 is spreading too fast in Ottawa to enable health services to function well and too many older adults are still vulnerable to hospitalization and death."

On Saturday, Ottawa, along with the rest of Ontario, entered a 28-day period dubbed a "provincewide shutdown" by the Ontario government, which placed additional restrictions on public and private gatherings and forced the closure of gyms, salons, and indoor and outdoor dining at restaurants. The province did not issue a stay-at-home order like it did in January.

Etches urged residents to stay home as much as they can and to avoid close contact with anyone from outside one's household.

"Enjoy the outdoors for physical activity with members of your household only," Etches said, adding that people who live alone can have essential support and that gathering with people outside of one's household outdoors must include masks and physical distancing of at least two metres.

While vaccination of residents is proceeding, Etches warned that vaccines cannot outpace the virus at the current rate we're seeing.

"[V]accination will not turn this curve. We have added testing capacity, are making space in hospitals with canceled procedures, and it won't be enough if exponential growth continues," Etches said. "There isn't enough vaccine to protect everyone from this resurgence."

On Saturday, the city saw some of the first pharmacies offer COVID-19 vaccines. There are 34 pharmacies in Ottawa that are taking appointments for anyone 55 and older to receive the AstraZeneca shot. Ottawa is also vaccinating anyone 70 and older through the Ontario COVID-19 vaccine booking system, as well as eligible residents in select neighbourhoods.

On Sunday, a spokesperson for Ontario Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said the province was appointing a new leader to the COVID-19 vaccination taskforce as it shifts to Phase 2, which will focus on essential, front-line workers, among other high-risk populations.

As of April 2, Ottawa had administered 151,236 of the 174,410 doses it had received up to that point. That includes 124,462 first doses and 26,824 second doses. To date, 13 per cent of eligible residents of Ottawa have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and three per cent have received both doses.

Another update on the progress of local vaccinations is expected on Monday.

Ottawans, we moved into the Red zone as COVID-19 levels were rising 2 wks ago + the curve has only worsened. 2 weekends ago we had lovely weather + a lot of socializing. I am seeing many people test positive after being in groups at restaurants, with transmission even outdoors.

— Dr. Vera Etches (@VeraEtches) April 4, 2021

COVID-19 is spreading too fast in Ottawa to enable health services to function well, + too many older adults are still vulnerable to hospitalization + death. With Variants of Concern driving rapid spread, we must continue vaccinating older adults + people at highest risk.

— Dr. Vera Etches (@VeraEtches) April 4, 2021

But vaccination will not turn this curve. We have added testing capacity, are making space in hospitals with canceled procedures, and it won't be enough if exponential growth continues. There isn't enough vaccine to protect everyone from this resurgence. We have to #StayHome

— Dr. Vera Etches (@VeraEtches) April 4, 2021

Enjoy the outdoors for physical activity with members of your household only. All contact w people from other households, unless you are single or need essential support, need to be with 2m distance between people, and use of masks if in close contact, to protect against COVID.

— Dr. Vera Etches (@VeraEtches) April 4, 2021