Ottawa's top doctor wants non-essential businesses closed during stay-at-home order
OTTAWA -- Ottawa's medical officer of health is calling on the Ontario government to shutdown all non-essential businesses, including retail for curbside pickup, to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission in the community.
"We need to limit the number of places that are open that provide a place for COVID-19 to be transmitted," said Dr. Vera Etches.
"We need to focus on the businesses staying open that provide food, medicines, health and safety services and products; really, truly essential services that we need and so it would be a more limited number."
Etches stressed on Thursday morning that curbside pick-up is a "low-risk activity", but Ontario needs to look at where COVID-19 is transmitted in workplaces.
In a follow-up memo to council on Thursday, Etches said "the concern is not with transmission to clients via retail and restaurant curbside pickup which is a low-risk practice. The concern is transmission between co-workers and to protect workers who are at greater risk."
Ottawa Board of Health chair and Coun. Keith Egli sent a letter to the Ontario government on behalf of Etches this week, requesting "additional COVID-19 restrictions and enforcement" during the stay-at-home order.
"The request was made to limit the places where people come into close contact with people outside of their household," said Egli on Wednesday afternoon.
"We're trying to work together to prevent outbreaks before they happen, instead of acting after the fact."
The letter recommends Ontario only allow businesses that provide groceries, medications and products or services that are essential for the health and safety to open and only medically-necessary care is provided for the period of the stay-at-home order. Ontario extended the stay-at-home order for an additional two weeks, until at least May 20.
In the memo Thursday, Etches said Ottawa Public Health staff are preparing their own Section 22 order to “better enable city by-law officers to enter and inspect businesses” if the province decides not to pursue the board’s recommendations.
CTV News Ottawa asked Etches and Egli if Ottawa Public Health would like to see Ontario implement the same restrictions that were in effect one year ago at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Our situation now, as we've been saying for sometime, is worse than it was then, so yes we would like to go back to at least those conditions to respond to this more significant risk in our community," said Egli.
Last spring, Ontario closed non-essential workplaces and public places, along with bars and restaurants except for takeout and delivery.
"A letter was sent yesterday to the Premier requesting an urgent review of all businesses and services that continue to have workers at work in the workplace," said Etches, adding she also wants Ontario to review the school closures to make sure as many students as possible are participating in virtual learning.
Ottawa Public Health also wants Ontario to review the enforcement provisions under the Reopening Ontario Act and the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act.
"The reason for this request is that workplaces continue to be places where people come into close contact with each other and where COVID-19 is transmitted," said Etches during a Wednesday afternoon media briefing.
"With the current pressures on our health care system, we do need to flatten the curve, we need to turn the curve again by decreasing every opportunity for transmission."
Dr. Etches said the number of Ottawa businesses with more than five cases of COVID-19 right now is limited.
"They include a lab, a gym, two transportation operations, two construction companies and five restaurants offering takeout," said Etches.
"Along with restaurants, offices are also close to the top of the list for workplaces that have experienced outbreaks and sports and recreation activities are also a top contributor."
Under provincial regulations, people who can work from home must work from home, the medical officer of health noted.
CTV News Ottawa asked Dr. Etches if she has the powers to issue a Section 22 Class Order to close all non-essential businesses, or is it a provincial decision.
"What I am putting forward is important for more places in the province. I would say it's most important for the places where COVID is rising rapidly," said Etches.
"There are parts of the province where COVID is on the decline again, there are parts of the province where the rates of COVID are not as high. It's really to take a look at where the curve is not flattening, the curve is not turning, what else can be done and that is a provincial question. I will continue to think about what can be done here locally, what's needed here locally."
The medical officer of health said Ottawa Public Health is "evaluating all possible options" to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the community."
CURBSIDE PICK-UP IS SAFE: ETCHES
Speaking on CTV Morning Live Thursday morning, Etches stressed curbside pick-up is a low-risk activity during the pandemic.
"In areas where the COVID rate is not turning, we need to take a look at the larger businesses, the manufacturing, distribution centres that are really giving rise to larger outbreaks and putting workers at risk. This is about taking a look at what are the essential businesses."
As host Leslie Roberts said to Etches, "I want to get specific about curbside, because that what's everyone seems to be grabbing on," the medical officer of health cut him off.
"I don't know why, it's not the pattern of spread – those are low-risk activities. In Ottawa, again I took a look at all of the outbreaks we've had, and we do not have a significant number of large outbreaks," said Etches.
The medical officer of health said curbside "pick-up is low risk."
"What we're talking about in terms of workplace transmission is between employees in a workplace, indoor environments where people aren't wearing masks," said Etches.
"We do see workplace transmission in Ottawa, its happening across many different types of businesses where the businesses have been working hard to make sure that the employees and clients are protected, but sometimes there are just breaks that happen, people take a break and take off their mask and that's across many different sectors."
SECTION 22 CLASS ORDER
Earlier this week, both Toronto and Peel Region issued new orders that would force businesses with five or more cases of COVID-19 in the previous 14 days to close.
Ottawa Public Health issued directives earlier this month requiring businesses to report two or more cases of COVID-19 involving employees within the workplace within two weeks.
"Ottawa Public Health's case management team continues to be able to work with these businesses and residents to manage these situations so that further transmission is prevented," said Dr. Etches.
"Our situation in Ottawa is unique; we're not seeing the same trends of workplace transmission and the size of outbreaks that other places like Toronto and Peel are experiencing."