OTTAWA -- Ottawa has recorded 43 new cases of COVID-19, a significant spike in the number of lab-confirmed cases of the virus.

Health Minister Christine Elliott tweeted Monday that Ontario recorded an uptick in new lab-confirmed cases, with 203 reported provincewide.

The new number for Ottawa is a significant increase. The city recorded 20 new cases on Monday, 16 on Sunday and 19 on Saturday. In the past week, 128 new cases were reported, nearly matching the number of new cases for all of June, which saw 132 new cases.

For much of July, the city had been reporting single-digit numbers of new cases. The jump of 43 cases is the largest single-day increase of cases in Ottawa since May 3.

The source of the current spike in infections was initially unclear, but Ottawa Public Health has said results from mobile testing clinics in the hard-hit Alta Vista and River wards was expected this week.

However, speaking to reporters Tuesday afternoon, Associate Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brent Moloughney said the recent rise in cases is not linked to neighbourhood testing.

"At this point we can say that the cases are not very much related to the additional testing that we've been doing in a number of neighbourhoods," he said. "I know the speculation is that the jump in cases is due to this testing, but the answer is no."

Dr. Moloughney says these cases continue to be linked to so-called high-risk activities, such as informal, indoor gatherings during Stage 2, parties, or people going to work sick. He says these cases are not linked to Stage 3.

Ottawa Public Health's daily dashboard update at 12:30 p.m. provides some additional figures. 

According to the dashboard, there have been a total of 2,287 laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Ottawa since March 11. The number of deaths remains at 263, a 25th straight day with no increase.

Hospitalizations have gone up slightly. There are seven people in hospital, two more since Monday, and two people in the intensive care unit. On Monday, there was one.

Active cases

The number of active cases continues to rise. According to OPH, there are 159 active cases in Ottawa, a jump of 41 cases. Two new resolved cases were added, which subtracts from the active case count.

This is the highest number of active cases seen in Ottawa since May 27, when there were 160 active cases.

Since the start of the pandemic, 1,865 cases in Ottawa have been considered resolved, having passed 14 days since symptom onset or positive test result.


Cases by age

In the past several days, the number of cases reported in residents in their 20s has risen. Of the 43 cases added Tuesday, 15 were in people aged 20 to 29. As of Tuesday, the 20-29 age bracket represents 14.6% of all COVID-19 cases since March 11, a proportion higher than any other age group, though roughly in line with their total share of the population of Ottawa.

Below is a breakdown of new cases Tuesday, by age category, according to Ottawa Public Health.

  • 90+ years: 0 new cases
  • 80-89 years: 1 new case
  • 70-79 years: 2 new cases
  • 60-69 years: 0 new cases
  • 50-59 years: 5 new cases
  • 40-49 years: 4 new cases
  • 30-39 years: 6 new cases
  • 20-29 years: 15 new cases
  • 10-19 years: 9 new cases
  • 0-9 years: 1 new case

The demographic picture of COVID-19 in Ottawa has shifted in the last month. According to Ottawa Public Health's June 17 COVID-19 summary, people in their 50s represented the highest proportion of all cases to date at 14.1%. People 50 and over accounted for 57.4% of all cases at that time.

Now, those figures have shifted. People 50 and up now represent 53.3% of all cases to date. The proportion of cases in the age brackets between 50 and 90+ have been falling, while the age brackets from 49 and under have been rising. On June 17, the 20-29 set represented 12.2% of all cases. Today, it is 14.6%. 

Spikes expected, expert says

Infectious disease specialist Dr. Neil Rau says this kind of jump unsurprising.

"You're always going to see a rise as more people interact because we kind of supress transmission of the virus keeping people apart from each other and now, all of a sudden, we are gradually letting people interact again," Dr. Rau told Newstalk 580 CFRA's "Ottawa at Work with Leslie Roberts" (guest hosted by CTV's Graham Richardson).

Rau says the recent jump is "not a catastrophe" and that the more important figure to watch is the number of hospitalizations.

"The bigger number to follow is what’s happening at the hospital level," he says. "Are people coming into ICU critically ill in gross numbers? Are we seeing deaths? So far, we're not seeing that […] If we try to stop every virus transmission we'll go right back to where we were in March."

Rau says to expect spikes in aggregate case numbers throughout the summer and fall.

"We're kind of enduring a relapse because we held everything back, a sort of pay now or pay later. Hopefully, we won’t have a big surge in the fall, but we're going to see a dribble-dribble through the summer and these shouldn't be considered catastrophes or failures."

Rau has been vocally critical of Canada's lockdown strategy, but admits he's held an "outside opinion" on the severity of lockdown restrictions in the spring and the current restrictions in place for the summer.

"I think we could have been more surgical," he says. "It really has to do how much you value some of the lives that were saved by the lockdown strategy versus the harms. […] There are certain things that won't happen once we keep having restrictions in place and there's a fallout injury for people. If we don't open schools, the single mom can't go to work because her kids aren't in school and she can't make a living. Health and wealth are tied together. We know poverty drives health incomes."

Rau says "tolerating" the virus for the time being, in the absence of a vaccine, is what he recommends in order to avoid economic suffering.

"By opening up, we're creating better economic outcomes which are also tied to health. You don't have domestic violence because people are caged together. You don't have alcoholism problems because people have nothing to do," he says.

"I'm not saying these things go away but I'm saying COVID lockdowns and those strategies that were repressive have huge unmeasured impacts." 

Will we go back a stage?

When asked whether Ottawa might need to go back to Stage 2 and reintroduce restrictions on the population, Dr. Moloughney stressed the new cases are not connected with Stage 3, and added they are also not linked to Stage 2-specific activities either.

 "What we're seeing, and what need to address collectively, is a shift in behaviours where people are socializing more and doing so in a way that is increasing the risk of transmission," Dr. Moloughney said. "We're not saying 'stop socializing' but rather do it in a manner that is safer both for yourself and for others."

When pressed about when OPH would consider it time to reintroduce restrictions, Dr. Moloughney said, "It depends."

"Having outbreaks occurring and the ability to identify them early and prevent further transmission is a different scenario where there's widespread community transmission, and it's active, and it's not responsive to efforts," he said. "I think it's more the latter category that if Ottawa was in a situation where we were having rapid transmission and it wasn't possible to identify and control where the sources were, that I think we would need to consider other sorts of measures."

Dr. Moloughney said the number of cases is just one part of the picture. Hospitalizations, outbreaks in long-term care settings, the availability of tests, the amount of personal protective equipment available, and changes in the positivity rate of tests are all factors that would determine how the city would move forward (or backwards) in terms of stages of reopening.

He said OPH is in contact with the provincial government regarding the local situation.

"If we reached a hypothetical point where we thought greater restrictions are needed, that would be a conversation with the province to see if they could aid with that process, but I think that this point there's a number of things we can do locally to reduce the risk of transmission," he said.

Dr. Moloughney stressed OPH's "COVID W.I.S.E." messaging: Wear a mask if you can't physically distance; Isolate yourself when you're sick; Stay two metres apart from others; and Exercise proper hand hygiene.