Zone change to red possible if Ottawans aren't cautious, say health experts

·3 min read
Zone change to red possible if Ottawans aren't cautious, say health experts
Pedestrians make their way through downtown Ottawa on Feb. 18, 2021, just days after the stay-at-home order was lifted and the city entered the orange zone. (Brian Morris/CBC - image credit)
Pedestrians make their way through downtown Ottawa on Feb. 18, 2021, just days after the stay-at-home order was lifted and the city entered the orange zone. (Brian Morris/CBC - image credit)

Health officials are cautioning that Ottawa's COVID-19 case numbers could rise rapidly as businesses reopen and variants spread across the province — pushing the city ever closer to the red zone.

Ottawa's key COVID-19 indicators are currently in the orange zone, although some sit on the verge of the red zone, according to the province's colour coded COVID-19 framework. Health officials say the city's numbers have ebbed and flowed since the start of the pandemic and the worry is they could flow once again — and quickly.

"We're inching up, but we've got a few factors, major factors in play that haven't started influencing those cases yet," said Dr. Doug Manuel, a senior scientist at The Ottawa Hospital.

One of those factors is the new COVID-19 strains which can be more contagious that have crept their way into the country.

"One thing we've learned over the last year is that the earlier the better [to implement restrictions]," he said. "The longer we wait to modify that course, the longer it will take to get [infections] back down."

A couple pushing a pug in a stroller checks out the menu of a restaurant in downtown Ottawa. Scientists warn the city's COVID-19 numbers could easily increase if people aren't careful, especially with new variants making their way across the province.
A couple pushing a pug in a stroller checks out the menu of a restaurant in downtown Ottawa. Scientists warn the city's COVID-19 numbers could easily increase if people aren't careful, especially with new variants making their way across the province.

Manuel said the number of contacts of people who test positive for the illness are concerning. On Tuesday, that number was at 5.8 over a seven-day period that ended Feb. 14, two days before the stay-at-home order ended.

"During lockdown and last summer, you know, we were around ... two people per case. So five is pretty high," he said.

Ottawa's Medical Officer of Health Dr. Vera Etches also urged people to be cautious just before the stay-at-home order ended.

"We've seen what happens with socializing," she said. "It adds up to, you know, potentially a rapid rise in COVID again, and more things shut."

Variants cause for concern

Earl Brown, a professor emeritus of virology at the University of Ottawa, agrees the variants are a cause for concern that could rapidly push numbers upward.

"It's nice to be as open as we can with our economy, but I'm somewhat pessimistic in the short term," he said. "The variants are going to make us ... pay more dearly for the time we buy."

Brown said there's a balancing act between keeping businesses and schools shuttered and trying to control the spread of COVID-19.

"You definitely want to control the pandemic, but it's always the question — at what cost?"

Under the province's colour-coded framework, being in the red zone would mean people would be, once again, limited to only essential trips, such as going to the grocery store or the pharmacy, and going outside for physical activity.

Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury is also urging people to remain cautious, even as businesses and facilities have reopened across the city, so that the city doesn't move up a step.

"I know it's exciting," he said. "We have to support our local businesses, but we also have to be cognizant that the virus is within our community and we continue to be vulnerable."