OTTAWA -- Ottawa’s top doctor doesn’t believe COVID-19 has peaked in Ottawa just yet, but suggests the “worst is over” for the general population in terms of hospitalizations during the first wave of the pandemic.

And Medical Officer of Health Dr. Vera Etches says she’s concerned about the rising number of COVID-19 outbreaks in long-term care and retirement homes across Ottawa.

Ontario health officials issued new modelling data on COVID-19 Monday afternoon, saying it appears cases have peaked across Ontario.

The modelling report says “while earlier models predicted a peak in cases in May, public health interventions, including widespread adherence to physical distancing, have accelerated the peak to now.” The report does warn the spread of COVID-19 cases in long-term care homes and other congregate settings seems to be growing.

But Dr. Etches says “we don’t have a lot of evidence for a peak yet in Ottawa because our case numbers continues to go up.”

Ottawa Public Health reported on Monday there were 54 new cases of COVID-19 in Ottawa, bringing the total to 857 laboratory-confirmed cases. Dr. Etches says one of the reasons for the increase of cases is due to more testing.

“We do have evidence of a similar picture to Ontario in that the hospitalizations are stable, and the number of people being admitted to the intensive care unit is stable,” said Dr. Etches on Monday afternoon.

“That shows us that really the underlying burden of infection in the community is probably stable, because then the proportion that gets severe illness is showing up (in hospital).”

Dr. Etches says the hospitalization rate is the data to watch, “and I am hopefully that will show a decline reflecting an overall decline in the infections in the community in the days to come.”

On Monday, there were 37 people being treated in an Ottawa hospital for COVID-19, including 10 in the intensive care unit.

Worst is over for general population

Dr. Etches told reporters after Ottawa’s Board of Health meeting Monday night the worst appears to be over for the general population during the first wave of the pandemic.

“In terms of the rate of hospitalization, I think for the general population the worst is over in this first wave,” said Dr. Etches.

“Hopefully we can keep it that way for the general population.”

But Dr. Etches says “unfortunately” Ottawa Public Health is seeing more outbreaks in long-term care and retirement homes. There are currently 19 outbreaks in long-term care homes, retirement homes and hospitals in Ottawa.

“What we need to be careful of going forward is that we relax restrictions in a way that still protects us from a big spike of infections because most of our population, maybe 99 per cent of our population, is still not immune, has not been infected by the virus.”

Dr. Etches says Ottawa residents will need to continue to practice physical distancing measures to make sure there is no surge in infections.

Hopeful signs

The Medical Officer of Health repeated there are hopeful signs that Ottawa and Ontario can begin to have discussions on easing the physical distancing guidelines that have been in place since mid-March.

Dr. Etches says with hospitalization rates stable, it’s good to start looking ahead to the day the pandemic measures can be eased.

“It’s never too early to start to have a good plan, and a coordinated plan to think about how we get out of some these restrictions safely,” said Dr. Etches.

Dr. Etches says the conversation on easing the physical distancing regulations has room for community feedback.