OTTAWA -- Ottawa’s Medical Officer of Health estimates there could be up to 1,000 cases of COVID-19 currently in Ottawa.

Dr. Vera Etches issued the warning on Sunday as she urged residents to “strengthen their social distancing measures”, cancel any planned events and “not go out for non-essential reasons.”

Five new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Ottawa on Sunday, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the capital to 10.

The confirmed cases of COVID-19 are related to travel, or contact with people who have travelled.

Dr. Etches told reporters on Sunday afternoon that based on the fact people who travelled as far back as two weeks ago brought the virus back to Canada and it's likely health officials have not caught all travel related cases, the numbers of confirmed cases is higher.

“We’re estimating that right now in Ottawa there could be from a couple of hundred to even a thousand cases of COVID-19 in the community.”

The Medical Officer of Health adds COVID-19 is already circulating in the community.

“The new message for today, the most important message for today, is that we do assume that the coronavirus COVID-19 is circulating in Ottawa, that there is local community transmission of the virus.”

Dr. Etches says Ottawa residents will benefit from more social distancing between people, cancelling events of all sizes, and staying home when you’re sick.

“It’s time now to keep the transmission rates low because if we don’t, we know from looking around the world that what can happen is the number of cases can rise very quickly and can overwhelm our health care system.”

 Strengthen social distancing

The Medical Officer of Health suggests not going out for non-essential reasons.

“People should stay home unless there is an essential reason to take a trip to the grocery store, to a pharmacy, to look after an ill friend or family member.”

When asked if Ottawa residents should go to a bar, a restaurant or a movie, Dr. Etches said that “I recommend that they don’t go out for non-essential reasons. One could assume that it may not be essential to go to a bar. I think that is one of the messages for people is to think about limiting those kinds of interactions.”

Dr. Etches is encouraging parents to keep their children home from daycare if possible and speak with their employers about options for working from home.

The City of Ottawa is closing all city facilities on Monday, and several March Break camps and activities have been cancelled.

Ottawa Public Health suggests maintaining a social distance of one to two metres from other people as much as possible.

Dr. Etches also recommended people cancel gatherings of all sizes immediately.

Working from home?

Dr. Etches admits her request to not go outside for non-essential reasons will raise questions about employment and jobs.

She recommends people connect with supervisors and managers about work you can do at home, or how your workplace can protect you through distancing.

You can go outside

Even though the Medical Officer of Health is encouraging people to limit non-essential trips outside, she does say you can go outside.

“People can still go outside and walk your dog. It means you can play in the park, take your children out. But as you’re doing those things to make sure you’re keeping distance from others.”

Dr. Etches says social distancing is a way to reduce transmission in our community.