As spread slows slightly, OPH wants Ottawans to fine tune their physical distancing


While the rate of COVID-19 transmission in Ottawa has declined over the last two weeks, Ottawa Public Health is calling on residents to take further measures — albeit small ones — to combat the respiratory virus.

At a virtual news conference on Tuesday, Dr. Vera Etches, the medical officer of health with Ottawa Public Health (OPH), said the virus takes advantage of moments where people let their guard down. Despite the messages about the importance of physical distancing, wearing masks and hand hygiene, Etches said there are situations where people seem to forget themselves. 

What’s more, these are often situations where government enforcement doesn’t have jurisdiction — such as in private homes where mandatory mask bylaws don’t apply or at gatherings small enough to be permitted under provincial regulations. Etches referred to these situations as “blind spots.”

“One blind spot is gathering with extended family and larger friend circles and thinking that the risk of COVID-19 isn’t there,” she said. “Another one is socializing before or after a team sport.”

Close contact with people outside your household always poses a risk of transmission, said Etches, no matter who you are.

“People don’t think of these settings like carpooling or meeting up with extended family in the same way they might in terms of going to a gym or going to a bar. So we’re just trying to expand people’s risk assessment.”

Lunch at work often a problem 

One of the most common opportunities for COVID-19 transmission is during lunch breaks between colleagues, said Etches.

Coworkers may spend the entire work day safely distancing and wearing a mask, only to sit together and remove their mask to sip coffee or eat lunch, and inadvertently spread the virus. 

“Employees having lunch together seems to come up over and over,” she said. “Whether it’s in a health-care setting or a school or a workplace … it is what gives the virus an opportunity to spread.”

Dr. Vera Etches, medical officer of health, says Ottawa’s numbers are dropping, though people are still gathering with extended family or socializing before and after team sports. 0:52

Etches said “it’s no one’s fault,” reiterating the virus is often present before people feel sick.

One simple solution is if people have to remove their masks to eat lunch, they ensure they stay at least two metres away from others, she said. 

Case numbers in Ottawa improving

While much of September and October was overshadowed by a rise of the second wave, Etches said on Tuesday, there are signs to be hopeful about.

“I want to say congratulations to the people of Ottawa. There are some encouraging indications that we’re having some success,” she said.

Etches said local health officials are still working on their recommendations for the province as to whether they think Ottawa is ready to relax measures.

The province’s Stage 2 modified measures in Ottawa went into effect Oct. 10 and are set to expire by next month. Health Minister Christine Elliott would not say whether the Ottawa will be allowed to transition to Stage 3 or whether the increased restrictions, on things like indoor dining or gyms, will continue.

As Halloween approaches, Etches still recommends families cancel trick-or-treating and parties and opt for virtual celebrations and walks with household members only to see neighbourhood decorations. 

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