OTTAWA -- One week after Ottawa returned to the "orange-restrict" zone following the COVID-19 lockdown, Ottawa's top doctor warns the capital is inching towards the red zone and new restrictions.

"We are not heading towards yellow, we are heading towards red and that's not okay because it does potentially take us into a place with less opportunity," said Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa's medical officer of health during a presentation to council.

"We could be discussing whether we need to go into red with the province next week that is a real possibility."

Ottawa moved to the "orange-restrict" level on Feb. 16, allowing non-essential businesses, restaurants and fitness centres to open. A move to the "red-control" level in Ontario's COVID-19 response framework would impose new restrictions on social gatherings, restaurants, gyms and fitness centres.

"We need to think about how we can be a little bit stricter with ourselves in terms of those number of close contacts," Dr. Etches said Wednesday.

Ottawa Public Health is seeing a single case of COVID-19 have six close contacts, and hospitalizations are no longer declining.

There were some positive signs in Ottawa's key COVID-19 indicators on Wednesday.

The COVID-19 rate per 100,000 people was 34.5 cases on Wednesday, down 36.6 cases per 100,000 on Tuesday. Ottawa's Positivity Rate is 2.1 per cent for the period of Feb. 17 to 23, down from 2.3 per cent from Feb. 15-21.

Etches says it's important to continue practicing physical distancing, including maintaining two metres distance with people outside your household.

"The provincial framework says right now, it's legal, you could have 10 people in your house indoors and you can gather with 25 outdoors," said Etches.

"That's like a speed limit, but we're in the middle of a snowstorm and we shouldn't be pushing the speed limit. We need to be driving according to the conditions, and in this case it means we need to be limiting our close contacts to members of our household."

Under the "orange-restrict" level, restaurants and bars can open for in-person dining with a maximum of four people per table. Gyms are also allowed to open, with capacity limits for classes and in the facility. The limits for private gatherings at homes under the orange zone is 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors.

If Ottawa moved to the "red-control" level, the limits for all organized public events and social gatherings is five people indoors and 25 people outdoors.  In the red zone, capacity limits in restaurants and bars is 10 patrons maximum and capacity limits for gyms capped at 10 people in indoor areas with weights and exercise machines and 10 people for indoor classes.


Mayor Jim Watson used his opening address to council to discuss the "bit of normalcy" in Ottawa last weekend after the lockdown lifted.

"But I have to continue to warn the residents of Ottawa, let's not blow this," said Watson.

"Let's not go back to our old habits and let's not give the province a reason to put us back in lockdown."

The medical officer of health said residents should not think that COVID-19 is under control now that the lockdown is over.

"Ottawa Public Health has seen people who test positive who work in offices, in pharmacies, in religious communities, in coffee shops, grocery stores, warehouses, home care, security - It is widespread," said Dr. Etches.

"I just don't want people to have a sense, 'oh it's under control.'"

Dr. Etches notes Ottawa Public Health can't always find the source of a COVID-19 infection.

"We're doing less well than we were at the end of January bringing the numbers down," said Etches.

"I want people, not be discouraged by this, but to realize our behaviour matters and there are these blind spots we can take a look at and tighten up."