As Ottawa opens up again, public health officials urge restraint

·3 min read

A host of new activities are once again permitted in Ottawa starting Saturday, now that the city is classified in the orange zone under the province's new COVID-19 guidelines.

"The measures outlined in the provincial framework will allow us to maintain a balance that will see us through this pandemic. It's a marathon, not a hurdle race," said Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa's medical officer of health in a statement Friday about the latest reopening measures.

"It's not about getting over the next hump, but about finding sustainable ways to balance life while keeping COVID-19 levels low in the community."

Under Ontario's COVID-19 Response Framework, Ottawa along with York Region are in the orange, or "restrict" category. Under the new category, businesses that had been closed or more tightly restricted under the modified Stage 2 rules will have some limits relaxed.

That means restaurants and bars can reopen indoor seating; however, the businesses must abide by certain limits, including serving alcohol only between the hours of 9 a.m. and 9 p.m., and limiting seating to four people per table. Cinemas and casinos are also allowed to reopen with limits.

Gyms that reopen Saturday must ensure clients stay three metres apart and cap indoor classes at 10 people. No spectators are allowed at sports games unless they are adults supervising their children.

Etches urges Ottawans not to let their guard down — or risk another surge in COVID-19.

That means, only eating out with members of your household and keeping masks on unless you are actively eating or drinking, she said.

When it comes to socializing with people you don't live with, Etches urges people to keep a two-metre distance, wear masks and try to stay outside. Etches says virtual hang outs are still preferable.

Not clear worst of 2nd wave over: Manuel

Dr. Doug Manuel, a senior scientist at The Ottawa Hospital, said Etches's advice is key at this moment to both keeping numbers low while ensuring what's expected of Ottawa residents is sustainable in the long run.

"I think the lessons learned is you've got to really find out all those local details about [where] transmission is occurring and doing our best to find out how to disrupt transmission where the easy opportunities are," he said.

Manuel, who also does data modelling for Ottawa Public Health, describes this moment as "foggy." It's not clear whether the worst of the second wave is behind us or not.

Justin Tang/The Canadian Press
Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

While testing and wastewater monitoring seems to indicate transmission has slowed for the past two weeks, hospitalizations remain high, he said.

For now, Etches said it's up to individuals to make the safest choices they can — keep up physical distancing and wear masks, in order to keep amenities like cinemas and yoga classes open.

"Government regulations help protect people, but it is still up to everyone across all age groups and in every neighbourhood to act in a safer way when we go about our daily lives so we can keep the levels of COVID-19 down."