OTTAWA -- The peak of Ottawa's COVID-19 caseload early this fall was roughly half of what it was in the fall of 2020, and data show that Ottawa's most recent wave has crested.

COVID-19 cases in Ottawa rose steadily in September 2020 and a similar trend was seen in 2021, but with a majority of the city vaccinated against COVID-19, the wave this fall was much less harsh than it was in 2020. Figures from Ottawa Public Health, available on Open Ottawa, show that active COVID-19 cases peaked at 1,501 on Oct. 3, 2020 before they started to decline again. By Oct. 23, the active case count had dropped to 1,367.

 

In 2021, the peak during the most recent wave was 740 active cases on Sept. 18. Ottawa's caseload has since dropped to 242 active cases as of Sunday's most recent snapshot from OPH, a fraction of what it was on the same date in 2020.

"Oh man, the difference in the year has been incredible," said Ottawa Hospital critical care doctor Kwadwo Kyeremanteng, in an interview with CTV News Ottawa. "I must say I'm just really happy with where we are. I'm proud of the city and everyone for doing their part. It's encouraging." 

Citizens have much more freedom to gather in 2021

This time last year, Ottawa was under a "modified Stage 2" shutdown. Social gatherings were limited to 10 indoors and 25 outdoors, restaurants were ordered to close their dining rooms and gyms, casinos and cinemas were ordered shut. Team sports were limited to training only. Schools remained open.

Today, the province has lifted a significant amount of gathering restrictions. Capacity limits are gone for large venues like live sports stadiums, and the restrictions on capacities in dining rooms and gyms end on Monday.

Sara Stresman, the assistant manager of Sunset Grill in Ottawa, says this day has been a long time coming.

"I feel like we've been waiting for this for a very long time and it can finally happen," she said Sunday. "Right now, 50 per cent of our tables are in storage. So, tomorrow morning, we'll be here early getting those all out, getting back to our normal floor plan and our old seating chart."

The head of Ontario's COVID-19 science table, Dr. Peter Juni, told CTV News Ottawa on Saturday that Ontario's plans to further ease restrictions will be put to the test as cold weather arrives.

"The only curveball that is impending, obviously, is the bad weather. People will move indoors more, and what we need to see is how this impacts epidemic growth in this province," he said.

Infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch says although current trends are positive, there is still a need to remain vigilant.

"It's important to recognize the pandemic isn't over and if we act like it's over we could get burned."

Vaccines and variants key differences between 2020 and 2021

The main difference between 2020 and 2021 is the vaccine. There was no approved vaccine in Canada in the fall of 2020. As of last Friday, 90 per cent of residents of Ottawa who are eligible have had at least one dose and 86 per cent are fully vaccinated. The province has created mandates requiring proof of vaccination to visit many non-essential businesses, including restaurants, but some businesses had been enforcing their own vaccination requirements before the provincial system was launched.

The presence of vaccines and the widespread coverage also correlates with a markedly lower caseload in Ottawa hospitals. On Oct. 23, 2020, there were 36 COVID-19 patients in local hospitals. On Oct. 23, 2021, there were six. The 2021 fall wave peaked at 20 hospitalizations due to COVID-19, with 12 people in the ICU on Sept. 30. In the fall wave of 2020, the peak number of hospitalizations was 49 while ICU admissions peaked at 10.

"We're doing very well. Our numbers are under 10 for hospitalizations for a population of a million, so it's looking good right now," said Ottawa Hospital senior scientist Doug Manuel.

 

Variants are another key difference. They were not widespread in the fall of 2020. This fall, Ottawa is contending with the Delta variant. In the last 30 days, 136 cases in the city have been identified as Delta. There have been 800 Delta variant cases in the city since the first confirmed cases were reported in May. It wouldn’t be until the winter of 2020 that the first variant cases—in this case the Alpha variant—would be detected. The Alpha variant hasn't been detected in Ottawa in the last 30 days, but is responsible for 6,849 cases since December of 2020.

The number of people dying from COVID-19 has also decreased sharply since the vaccine became widely available. Twenty people in Ottawa died of COVID-19 between Oct. 1 and Oct. 23, 2020, compared to six in that same timeframe this year. The raw fatality rate of COVID-19 is 1.96 per cent, as of Oct. 23, 2021. On this date last year, that figure was 4.64 per cent. 

Experts say that we have come far from where we were a year ago--with other local waves in between--and as we prepare for cooler days ahead, it's important to remember the fight isn't over just yet. 

Doctors are encouraging everyone to continue following health guidelines through the winter.

"Our four strongest preventative measures right now are vaccination, passports, masks, and ventilation," Dr. Manuel says.