OTTAWA -- Ottawa’s top doctor suggests there could be up to 34,000 cases of COVID-19 in Ottawa today.

During a presentation to Council on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa, Medical Officer of Health Dr. Vera Etches said the reason for the large discrepancy between the confirmed cases and the modelling data is due to the limited testing criteria for COVID-19. 

Dr. Etches told Council that modelling data from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine is predicting right now “the number of cases in Ottawa is likely between 11,000 and 34,000.”

“As we get more information, we will continue to update the website.”

Dr. Etches says the modelling from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine is "based on the deaths we have seen and extrapolating to what this means about the overall number of infections in the community."

On Wednesday, Ottawa Public Health reported there were 429 laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Ottawa, including seven deaths.

Dr. Etches showed a model based on laboratory-confirmed cases in Ottawa, that suggested the curve could flatten in May.

“We know that’s not the full picture of illness in our community.”

Dr. Etches added “people are looking for hope, they’re looking for a sign we’re flattening the curve .. this curve looks very much into the future that the rate of increase of cases is going to slow down. That is encouraging.”

But the Medical Officer of Health says the lack of testing is a challenge, and health officials want to expand the testing.

“This testing we’ve been doing so far has been limited to health-care workers, people who are hospitalized and people with more severe illness or live in a long-term care home.”

When asked about the model showing a potential flattening of the curve by Councillor Matthew Luloff, Dr. Etches said “it does demonstration that based on the patterns to date, we aren’t seeing a steep increase at this point.”

Dr. Etches also showed data of projected ICU hospitalizations in Ottawa, saying the model is “encouraging.”

It shows if person-to-person contact in the community is reduced by 50 per cent, ICU hospitalizations could spike to more than 1,000 this summer. If residents reduce contact by 70 per cent, ICU hospitalizations would stay within the current hospital capacity.

Dr. Etches told Council “our public health measures right now have made a difference and we need people to stay focused on this.”

“To stay home, to stop the spread and to stay safe.”

The Peak?

The Medical Officer of Health says it’s too early to say when the number of cases could speak in Ottawa.

Dr. Etches told reporters Wednesday afternoon that “the data presented today is not really sufficient to predict when we will see the peak.”

Dr. Etches notes the modelling is based on the current testing capacity.

“As we test more, the model based on testing is going to shift and we expect that curve to shift. We can’t be sure about a peak based on that type of data.”

Dr. Etches says Ottawa Public Health and health officials will look at hospitalizations and deaths to see if Ottawa is past the peak of COVID-19 illness.

“When I start to see hospitalization numbers and the numbers of deaths decrease that is when I think we will be starting to think about how do we safely ease up on some of these measures,” said Dr. Etches.

“Unfortunately, we aren’t seeing that yet. The number of hospitalizations and deaths is still growing.”

Expanding COVID-19 testing

The Medical Officer of Health says Ottawa Public Health and the Champlain Health Regional Incident Command is working to ensure those who need testing are being tested.

In a statement on Twitter, Dr. Etches said details are being confirmed.

In response to a question about expanding testing, Dr. Etches added the goal to expand testing would focus on testing household members of health care workers and essential workers such as grocery store workers.