Holidays will be ‘different’ this year, but can still be memorable, Ottawa health officials say

OTTAWA — The chair of Ottawa’s board of health and the city’s top doctor are urging families to be safe this holiday season, but they say just because the holidays will be different this year does not mean they can’t be fun.

Speaking to City Council on Wednesday, Board of Health Chair Coun. Keith Egli said the COVID-19 pandemic will require that families consider making changes to their usual holiday traditions.

“With Hanukah Christmas and Kwanzaa just around the corner, families should be thinking about and preparing for celebrations to be different this year,” he said. “Keep in person gatherings small. If getting together with extended family or friends, consider doing it virtually or perhaps plan an outdoor, physically distanced activity.”

Egli said this may not be what we’re used to, but it’s what we’re required to do to limit the spread of COVID-19.

“That doesn’t mean it can’t be fun or memorable, just different,” he said.

Medical Officer of Health Dr. Vera Etches told council there is a light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel, but it’s still some distance away.

“We can make it through to a day when we don’t need to be so cautious in our daily lives but this is not here yet and not going to arrive before we get through the winter,” she said. “So, our focus is … taking the measures we know will continue reduce COVID in our community—the wearing of masks, keeping two-metres distance from others—and that will allow us to have more businesses and activities open and available to us.”

Ottawa has seen a significant decline in COVID-19 figures the month of November. According to data from Ottawa Public Health, the number of people with active infections of COVID-19 has fallen by more than 50 per cent since Nov. 1 and the Ontario government says Ottawa’s rate of COVID-19 infection per 100,000 people in the city has gone down nearly 32 per cent since Nov. 9.

Dr. Etches is encouraging residents to keep their close contacts limited to their households and a small number of essential supporters this holiday season.

“I know we need to continue to be creative through the holidays. It is going to be a different year. This idea of keeping to our household plus one or two essential supports has been key in decreasing COVID in our community. That is going to continue to be my recommendation until we see that things are very much under control.”

Dr. Etches clarifies that the two essential supporters should not change.

“We’re saying that needs to be one or two people outside of your household, not two different people every day and moving around the province. We’ve got to limit our travel from places that rates are higher to places where rates are lower,” she said. 

“What we’re asking people to do is to consider that this holiday season in 2020 will be one like none other in our lives. This is 2020 COVID pandemic and it’s just going to be pretty memorable because it’s got to be different. We have to create new traditions and new approaches, which are based on limiting our celebrations in person to the people we live with, unless it’s a single person, grandparents who have assessed their risks and need to be connected to a family.”

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