OTTAWA -- As Ottawa sees a spike in COVID-19 cases, an epidemiologist at the University of Ottawa suggests there’s confusion about the size of a social bubble and social gatherings during the pandemic.

And Dr. Raywat Deonandan says the “failure of some people in society to do their part” to help limit the spread of novel coronavirus is keeping him up at night.

Ottawa Public Health has reported 172 cases of COVID-19 in Ottawa since last Friday. Ottawa’s Associate Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brent Moloughney told CTV News Ottawa on Thursday that eight to ten new cases of COVID-19 have been linked to a single social gathering.  

Appearing on CTV Morning Live Friday morning, host Annette Goerner asked Dr. Deonandan that since we’ve seen a spike in cases this week, is it “inevitable” Ottawa will see more cases now that we’re in Stage 3 of the Ontario COVID-19 reopening plan.

“Inevitable is a strong word,” said Dr. Deonandan, adding it’s “tempting to conclude” there will be a spike in cases as we open up more businesses and activities.

“This is the result obviously of human behavior, and apparently there seems to be a signaling to many in the community that the crisis is over therefore we’re going back to our normal socialization, which is not the case. So as Stage 3 opens up, I suspect that signaling will continue so we have to sort of modify and double-down on our messaging to really be careful going forward.”

Social bubble confusion?

As part of Stage 3 of the COVID-19 reopening plan, Ontario expanded the social gathering limits to 50 people indoors and 100 people in outdoor settings. The social bubbles are limited to a maximum of 10 people allowed to interact without physical distancing.

CTV Morning Live host Annette Goerner asked Dr. Deonandan if there’s confusion about the social bubbles and social gathering.

“There’s a lot of confusion going on. I don’t blame people for being a little unsure of what to do, but yah that’s the crux of a lot of this problem,” said Dr. Deonandan.

“Remember that the social bubble that’s essentially the people you’re in the space ship with, the people you’re going to share your germs with, the people you can be intimate with and hug and kiss and not wear a mask around. Everybody else regardless of the size of the gathering, you have to social distance around, wear a mask and avoid touching intimately. That message has somehow been lost and we need to reiterate it.”

Ottawa Public Health is encouraging people to continue to practice physical distancing, wear a face mask indoors or when physical distancing is not possible, and wash your hands.

Dr. Deonandan said he originally thought it was the right time for Ottawa and eastern Ontario to enter Stage 3 last week, allowing dine-in restaurants to open, along with movie theatres and gyms. But he says he’s concerned about the recent spike in cases and things should be slowed down ahead of the start of school in September.

“We should definitely reconsider opening bars, I think the bars was a bad idea. People are not going to them responsibly, most people are, but this disease doesn’t tolerate the slightest bit of deviation,” said Dr. Deonandan.

“We can’t really tolerate five-10 per cent of people being flagrant socially. So, unless we get a more responsible response from the citizens at large, I think it may be wise to dial back some of the freedoms.”

Keeping you up at night

CTV Morning Live host Annette Goerner asked Dr. Deonandan what worries him after four months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“What keeps me up at night is the failure of some people in society to do their part. I was optimistic, I still am optimistic, but I was optimistic mostly because Canadians in general expressed a desire to help each other - that’s part of our national values and identity. To the extent that the small number of people are unable to make that sacrifice, that’s what makes me worry,” said Dr. Deonandan.

“Pandemic control is ultimately dependent upon the ability of individuals and society to sacrifice for the greater good, and I question our ability these days to do so, so that’s what keeps me up at night. Governments can only do so much, scientists can do so much, it’s up to the people to do the rest.”

Dr. Deonandan wrapped up the interview with some advice for people to continue practice physical distancing and limit their social contacts.

“It’s not about you, it’s about the people you love. Maybe you are invincible and maybe you feel immune, fine, but you may spread to other people who may die.”