OTTAWA -- Ottawa's top doctor is painting a grim picture of the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa, saying the city is leading the province in new infections.

Speaking to City Council on Wednesday, Medical Officer of Health Dr. Vera Etches noted that Ottawa's per-capita positivity rate is the highest in Ontario.

"This is an Ottawa challenge," Dr. Etches said. "Ottawa has the highest rate of people testing positive for COVID-19 in the province. Just over the last week, Ottawa had 70 people per 100,000 testing positive. Toronto had 57. If you look at the trend, Ottawa's rate per 100,000 grew faster than the rate in Toronto, which was relatively stable."

In the past seven days, Oct. 8 to 14 inclusive, 737 new infections of COVID-19 were reported in the city.

Dr. Etches also noted that percentage of people testing positive is greater than 2.5 per cent.

On Wednesday, Ottawa Public Health reported 45 new cases of COVID-19 in Ottawa, the lowest figure in weeks. It remains unclear why the number is so low, compared to recent days of triple-digit case counts.

Speaking to reporters at Queen's Park on Wednesday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said he was shocked to see Ottawa's numbers.

"When I looked at the numbers in Ottawa today, they're the highest in the province, so we all have to work together in Ottawa to reduce the numbers," he said.

Ford said he believes everyone let their guards down over the summer, when case counts were at their lowest.

"I think all of us let our guards down a little bit. Ottawa was leading the charge and then all of a sudden everyone got a lackadaisical and now we're paying for it," he said. "I think I've come up here a hundred times and said It's going to bite us back in the butt if we don't tighten things up so I ask people let's tighten things up, let's bring the numbers down."

Health Minister Christine Elliott reiterated that recommended pandemic control measures will help get the numbers back under control in the province's hot spots, like Ottawa.

"We really need to go back to those basic principles that we talk about every day: physical distancing, wearing a face-covering, washing our hands frequently. All of those things are the most important things that each and every one of us can do to get those numbers down," she said. "I ask for all Ontarians' help in this."



Testing declined slightly in the past week, Dr. Etches said, but still remains high.

"Our testing volumes do remain high but they have fallen a bit in the last few days," Dr. Etches said. "Probably some of the measures related to children not needing to be tested if they have only one symptom, and moving to online booking, which has some challenges."

On Tuesday, the Ottawa COVID-19 testing task force provided an update on testing figures for Oct. 12, including the backlog of tests remaining in Ottawa.

The task force said 1,436 swabs were taken at testing facilities in Ottawa on Oct. 12 and local labs processed 2,128 tests. A backlog of 324 tests remains as of Oct. 12. 

Between Oct. 4 and Oct. 10, OPH data show that an average of 1,723 tests were performed each day that week. The average daily positivity rate was 2.6 per cent.

The testing centres recently announced phone numbers that people without access to the internet can call to book appointments and they have also freed up a limited amount of walk-in testing for people in urgent need of contact tracing or who have no internet access.

OPH recently moved Ottawa into "red" status, given the rising number of outbreaks and hospitalizations.

Outbreaks doubled in the past week, compared to the week before, Dr. Etches said, and the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 is at its highest level since the first wave. Acute bed capacity across the hospital system in Ottawa is now over capacity at 101%, though there is still ICU and ventilator capacity.