OTTAWA -- Ottawa's medical officer of health is asking residents to continue practicing physical distancing measures and limiting social contacts for three more months while the COVID-19 vaccine is rolled out.

And as the local numbers head in the wrong direction, Dr. Vera Etches says “more stringent measures” are needed to limit the spread of the virus.

Ottawa is approaching the "red-control" zone on Ontario's COVID-19 reopening framework, which would impose new restrictions on social gatherings, restaurants, bars and fitness centres.  On Friday, Ottawa's COVID-19 rate was 39.5 cases per 100,000 people, up from 34.7 cases per 100,000 on Feb. 26.

In an interview with CTV News Ottawa on Friday, Dr. Etches said Ottawa is on the verge of a third wave of the pandemic.

"That is what I would expect based on the very rapid rise in the level of COVID-19 in our wastewater. It's been reliably predicting when the testing that follows will detect more cases," she said.

Ottawa Public Health reported 49 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, after 80 new cases on Thursday.

Etches says government regulations alone are not enough to slow down the spread of COVID-19.

"What is it means is what we're doing right now, collectively as a million people, isn't quite enough anymore to keep the level of COVID-19 down and it's gone into this rapid rise that we see with this virus and we need to have more stringent measures to keep it under control," said Etches.

"The way of doing that is under the provincial framework moving into red, but the other way that its under our control is to really focus on limiting our close contacts outside of our household."

In a message on Twitter Friday morning, Etches said COVID-19 levels in the community are "rising at alarming rates and we CAN’T vaccinate our way out of this.”

Ottawa opened the first three community pop-up clinics on Friday to begin vaccinating residents over the age of 80 in seven high-risk neighbourhoods.

CTV News at Six anchor Patricia Boal asked Etches if people are letting their guards down as they see vaccines going into arms across Canada.

"It's hard work, and we've been doing this hard work for over a year, just about a year almost, and this idea we have to have fewer social contacts, people, friends and family that we care about near us is really hard," said Etches.

"So I want to ask people very clearly to keep it up for another three months. Let's set ourselves that goal that we're going to limit our close contacts for three more months and then we should really see that protection of older adults start to kick in from the vaccination program."

Etches says three months is enough time for Ottawa to ramp up the COVID-19 vaccine program and protect residents most at risk of the virus.

"By that time we'll have very good coverage of older adults, those most likely to be hospitalized and/or die. We saw the vaccines providing protection in long-term care, as the quantity of vaccine increases we just need that to be extended into the community."


In an interview on Newstalk 580 CFRA's Ottawa Now with Kristy Cameron, Dr. Etches suggested Ottawa will not be able to avoid moving into the red zone, with new restrictions on bars, restaurants, gyms and social gatherings.

"I think it's looking very difficult to avoid at this point because of the trajectory in the wastewater. It's really almost vertical," said Etches Friday afternoon, noting Ottawa is at the threshold to move into the red zone.

"It's today what we do that changes things in the future. We don't want to wait; we need to change things now so that can bring it back down."

Ontario announces on Fridays whether a region moves into a different zone in Ontario's COVID-19 reopening framework.

"I think we may cross the threshold very shortly, within the week and as soon as we do I'll be talking to the province," said Etches.