OTTAWA -- One month before Christmas, Ottawa's medical officer of health is recommending Ottawans celebrate the holidays with members of their household only due to COVID-19 and avoid trips to other cities to see family and friends. 

"What we're asking people to do is consider that this holiday season in 2020 will be one like none other in our lives. This is 2020 COVID pandemic and it's just going to be pretty memorable because it's going to be different," said Dr. Vera Etches.

"We have to create new traditions, new approaches which are based on limiting our celebrations in person to the people we live with, unless it's a single person, grandparents who have assessed their risks and need to be connected to a family."

Speaking to Council on Wednesday, Dr. Etches asked people to limit travel to areas with high rates of COVID-19 transmission. 

The Ontario government released guidelines for the upcoming holidays on Wednesday, recommending people avoid trips from higher COVID-19 transmission areas to areas with lower transmission and no non-essential visits with family and friends.

"I know there are many people looking forward to their traditional family celebrations at this time of year, but to keep your loved ones safe, traditions will have to be adjusted," said Premier Doug Ford.

"We're asking everyone to please stick to your own household when celebrating. Avoid big holiday parties or large family dinners to help us stop the spread of this deadly virus. By following this public health advice, we can all have a safe and fun holiday season."

The Ontario government issued a list of safer holiday activities:

  • Virtual holiday gatherings or events with family, friends or co-workers
  • Outdoor holiday activities such as building a snowman or going on a sleigh ride with members of your household
  • Attending a drive-in or drive-thru event
  • Baking holiday treats with your immediate households
  • Donating to your favourite holiday charity or toy drive

The government's list of riskier holiday activities includes:

  • In-person holiday gatherings or events, particularly gatherings where masks must be removed to eat or drink
  • Indoor holiday activities such as having overnight guests or sleepovers with friends or people outside your household
  • Visiting family and friends for non-essential reasons
  • Individuals and families in higher transmission areas should avoid going to lower transmission areas, except for essential reasons
  • Hosting or attending social gatherings or organized public events that do not adhere to local requirements

The social gathering limits for areas in the Green-Prevent, Yellow-Protect and Orange-Restrict zone is 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors.

Speaking to City Council on Wednesday, Board of Health Chair Coun. Keith Egli said the COVID-19 pandemic will require that families consider making changes to their usual holiday traditions.

"With Hanukah, Christmas and Kwanzaa just around the corner, families should be thinking about and preparing for celebrations to be different this year," he said. "Keep in person gatherings small. If getting together with extended family or friends, consider doing it virtually or perhaps plan an outdoor, physically distanced activity."

Egli said this may not be what we're used to, but it's what we're required to do to limit the spread of COVID-19.

"That doesn't mean it can't be fun or memorable, just different," he said.

Dr. Etches told council there is a light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel, but it's still some distance away.

"We can make it through to a day when we don't need to be so cautious in our daily lives but this is not here yet and not going to arrive before we get through the winter," she said. "So, our focus is … taking the measures we know will continue reduce COVID in our community—the wearing of masks, keeping two-metres distance from others—and that will allow us to have more businesses and activities open and available to us."

Ottawa has seen a significant decline in COVID-19 figures the month of November. According to data from Ottawa Public Health, the number of people with active infections of COVID-19 has fallen by more than 50 per cent since Nov. 1 and the Ontario government says Ottawa's rate of COVID-19 infection per 100,000 people in the city has gone down nearly 32 per cent since Nov. 9.

Dr. Etches is encouraging residents to keep their close contacts limited to their households and a small number of essential supporters this holiday season.

"I know we need to continue to be creative through the holidays. It is going to be a different year. This idea of keeping to our household plus one or two essential supports has been key in decreasing COVID in our community. That is going to continue to be my recommendation until we see that things are very much under control."

Dr. Etches adds that while a single person or grandparent can join a household for the holidays, people should avoid multiple gatherings and travelling to other cities. 

"We're saying that needs to be one or two people outside of your household, not two different people every day and moving around the province. We've got to limit our travel from places that rates are higher to places where rates are lower."