COVID-19: How Ottawa has fared one month in to Stage 3?
OTTAWA -- Ottawa has been in Stage 3 of Ontario's reopening framework for just over four weeks.
The province allowed residents and businesses in the city to ease many COVID-19 restrictions starting July 17. Restaurants and bars could welcome patrons indoors. Gyms and movie theatres reopened. Public gathering limits increased, though the social circles of a maximum of 10 remained the same.
"Generally I think, it's gone fairly well, it's helped the economy to get places like restaurants opening up again, getting people back to work, that's a good thing," said Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson.
The City of Ottawa also instituted a mandatory mask by-law just days before Stage 3 officially began.
At the start of Stage 3, Ottawa saw the beginning of a significant spike in COVID-19 cases, though public health officials said the cases were linked primarily to so-called "high risk activities", such as parties and other indoor gatherings without physical distance and masks or which were attended by people with COVID-19 symptoms. These events were also held closer to the start of July, when Ottawa was still in Stage 2.
"In general, Stage 3 in Ontario has been going okay, it hasn't been perfect, but it's been going okay, we haven't seen any large sustained outbreaks," said Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease physician at Toronto General Hospital.
Health experts say that new infections typically represent exposures from about two weeks prior.
The jump in cases in mid-July caused the number of known active cases in the city to climb from 76, according to the data reported by Ottawa Public Health on July 17, to a peak of 271 on July 31.
The trend in active cases has fallen since the start of August. There were 250 known active cases reported on Aug. 1, there are now 118 as of 2 p.m. Aug. 14.
OPH reported 516 new cases between July 18 and Aug 15.
One death has been reported so far in Stage 3. A man in his 40s died July 27. He is the second-youngest person in Ottawa to die of COVID-19. The youngest was 39.
In a statement on OPH's website, Medical Officer of Health Dr. Vera Etches said the health unit is working with the business community to help keep transmission low across the city, now that many more businesses have reopened.
"We are encouraging all local businesses to actively screen their employees, use customer and employee logs and promote mask use in areas not covered by the City‘s Temporary Mask By-law." Dr. Etches said. "We are hosting a series of Business Reopening Workshops to provide sector-specific considerations for a safer reopening, covering off topics such as health and safety guidelines, planning for physical distancing, use of cloth masks and industry specific issues."
CASES RISE IN YOUNGER RESIDENTS
In the past 30 days, cases have risen primarily in younger residents and have more than doubled in children.
According to data from OPH, there were 37 known cases of COVID-19 in kids under 10 as of July 14, and there are 93 cases, as of Aug. 14. In the 10-19 age category, the number jumped from 75 to 161.
People in their 20s accounted for the largest increase in new cases. OPH added 145 cases to the 20-29 age category in the past 30 days, more than any other category. There were 423 cases reported in residents under the age of 50, versus 108 in people 50 and over.
Hospitalizations rose in mid-July and have held steady in August. In OPH's COVID-19 dashboard report on July 17, there were five people in hospital with COVID-19 complications. In August, the number of hospitalizations has been at an average of 12, with a high of 15 reported on Aug. 11. The average number of people in intensive care in August has been two.
Seventeen new institutional outbreaks were declared in Ottawa during Stage 3, with three remaining active as of Aug. 14. In Stage 2, 10 outbreaks were declared.
No one died because of any of the outbreaks in Ottawa since July 17. Thirty-nine cases were attributed to outbreaks between July 17 and Aug. 14.
ALL EYES ON SEPTEMBER
Chief among the concerns for both Ottawa Public Health and many in the community is the planned return to school in September.
Dr. Etches has said OPH will be practicing different scenarios in the weeks leading up to Sept. 3 so that they can be ready for events like a symptomatic child needing to be tested, a child testing positive, and spread within a school.
Dr. Etches said there would be COVID-19 cases in schools at some point, but also stressed that keeping community transmission low will help keep the virus out of the classroom.
"Ottawa, you know what to do. We’ve flattened the curve before," Dr. Etches said in her statement on Friday. "Most recently, after a spike in mid-July where we were seeing cases double week by week, we are now seeing stable numbers once more thanks to your actions of wearing a mask, maintaining physical distance, staying home when sick and exercising hand hygiene. You’ve learned to be social wise when seeing friends and loved ones."
Dr. Etches reminds us that symptoms that could indicate COVID-19 infection include, but are not limited to, feeling feverish, new or worsening cough, difficulty breathing, sore throat, nausea/vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, runny nose or nasal congestion.
"In the past, we may have gone to work or sent a child to school with ‘just a cold’, but in living with COVID-19, we need to be more cautious," she said.
HOW ARE BUSINESSES DOING?
Rocco Rossi, the president and CEO of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, told CTV Morning Live on Friday that getting schools and daycares up and running safely is the key to a successful economic restart.
"Restarting is incredibly difficult," he said. "If we aren't successful reopening schools on a full-time basis for elementary students in particular and if we don't successfully and safely reopen daycare, then women and women entrepreneurs, who've been disproportionately hit by this recession are not going to be able to fully participate."
In the meantime, it hasn't been a totally successful relaunch of the economy, especially for businesses downtown.
Rossi notes that businesses in cities like Ottawa that rely on foot traffic from office workers are having difficulty as employees continue to work from home.
"You may be allowed to open but if the people aren't there you're simply not making the funds required to be profitable," he said.
He also says most small- and medium-sized businesses started the pandemic with only about a month's worth of cash on hand, and it's now been five months since the middle of March when lockdowns began and many business owners took on debt to weather the initial lockdowns.
Rossi says government aid will be needed through the winter to help businesses get their revenues back, especially in the tourism and cultural sectors.
"They're going to need support for an extended period of time or we simply have to accept that on top of the thousands of businesses [in Ontario] that have already shuttered their doors permanently, we're going to have many more before we get to the end of this," he said.
With files from CTV News Ottawa's Jeremie Charron