OTTAWA -- Ottawa's top doctor says the public health unit is looking at ways to cut down on long lines for bars on busy nights in an effort to reduce chances for COVID-19 to spread, and making bars reservation-only is one suggestion.

Ottawa entered Stage 3 on July 17, which allowed for bars and restaurants to reopen their indoor dining and tap rooms, with physical distancing.

However, Medical Officer of Health Dr. Vera Etches says there have been reports of long lines to get into popular bars, leading to clusters of people not physically distancing outdoors in bar-heavy areas.

"When there's a lineup in the street, we're finding people aren't physically distancing in that lineup," Dr. Etches told Newstalk 580 CFRA's "Ottawa Now with Kristy Cameron" on Monday.

Dr. Etches says Ottawa Public Health is working with the city's By-Law and Regulatory Services to come up with new measures to cut down on long lines and encourage physical distancing to reduce transmission of COVID-19.

"We're implementing measures that will address the lineups on the streets. We've seen some progress in that. Compared to a previous weekend, last weekend went better. There weren't any tickets or warnings that had to be issued."

One of the things Dr. Etches said OPH is looking at is asking bars to require all customers have reservations.

"These are the kinds of things we need to work with businesses to implement," she said. "There are effective ways to get rid of lineups and these are the kinds of things that we're working together with businesses and the City By-law because we do know that we want to keep two metres between people. It's just really important."

Dr. Etches says increased signage about physical distancing or requiring masks outdoors when in lineups are also measures the health unit is working on.

"There's a lot of work to focus on making sure these businesses don't become a source of transmission."

Dr. Etches made a similar statement on CTV Morning Live on Tuesday. 

"What's important about bars is they are a higher-risk environment," she said. "People tend to line up outside and they're treating that outside environment without caution. [...] So, we're looking to avoid lineups either by working with our business community to implement appointment systems or actually making it clearer on the street is a place where we're going to ask you to wear a mask."

However, Dr. Etches cautioned that bars are just one high-risk setting.

"I think the focus on just the bars as the only high-risk setting is potentially distracting all of us from getting the message that this is about our gatherings," she said. "We're still seeing cases where people are just a little bit too relaxed about gathering with people outside their household."

At St. Louis Bar & Grill on Elgin Street, owner Luke Rochefort Says they rely on foot traffic. They have been digging out from three years of major construction and road closures along the popular downtown street and now with COVID-19, having to reduce capacity to half, it has been a struggle to stay afloat. Taking reservations could be a logistical nightmare.

“I think we’ve done quite a good job of limiting those lineup,” says Rochefort. “I think it’s just making sure things are enforced making sure restaurants and bars are doing their jobs to screen people to make sure guests are safe and I do think it’s the responsibility on us to make sure those protocols happen.”

The bar and grill has gladly complied with all the recommendations from the city and the province and will continue to do so. They have hired more staff to monitor lines and to ensure cleanliness both indoors and on the patio. Business has been picking up and the hope is that the trend continues.

Still too early to judge impact of Stage 3

Dr. Etches told Kristy Cameron it is still too early to judge the impact of Stage 3 on Ottawa's COVID-19 case count. She said the double-digit increases in cases over the past 10 days are still linked to indoor parties in early July, but now those cases are starting to spread a bit further.

"Those people who went to those parties ill passed on the virus to people at the party and now we're seeing cases in households of those contacts," she said. "Previously, one case led to less than another case, so the overall rates declined, but now one case is leading to many other cases, so it is a concern."

Dr. Etches is urging people to go back to the basics of virus management: physically distancing, wearing masks, washing hands frequently, and staying home when sick.

"Maybe people don't realize--a sore throat, a headache, these are symptoms of illness that could actually be COVID and so you need to stay home when you're sick," she told CTV Morning Live.

She adds that close contacts are still limited to 10 people who are part of an exclusive "bubble" incorporating household members and a few others outside. While indoor gathering limits have increased to 50 in Stage 3 that is only allowed if physical distancing can be maintained.