Ottawa’s top doctor suggests threshold for stricter COVID-19 regulations is too high

OTTAWA — Ottawa’s top doctor suggests Ontario’s threshold to impose more restrictions on businesses and activities during the COVID-19 pandemic is “very high.”

And Medical Officer of Health Dr. Vera Etches says Ottawa Public Health would need to take steps to protect the public before Ottawa reached that level of COVID-19 transmission in the community.

The Ontario Government’s “Keeping Ontario Safe and Open” plan shows that the threshold to move a region to the “Control” category includes a rate of more than 100 cases per 100,000 people a week and a testing positivity rate of 10 per cent.

Speaking with reporters on Thursday, Dr. Etches said she supports the Ontario Government’s new “colour-coded” tiered system for COVID-19 restrictions.

“I remain supportive of the introduction of a framework that give people a better idea of the risk level in their community, so the colour-code system is something we could use to convey the level of risk,” said Dr. Etches, adding it’s important to be transparent with the community about the COVID-19 situation.

“The red-threshold seemed pretty high and we probably would have to take action to warn people in Ottawa that COVID was increasing too quickly before we got to any red threshold.”

Dr. Etches notes she would be concerned if she saw a rapid increase in the positivity rate from COVID-19 tests, and actions would need to be considered to reduce the spread of the virus.

Ottawa is currently in the “Orange-Restrict” level, allowing dine-in service at bars and restaurants, and gyms and fitness centres to open.

Confidential documents obtained by CTV News Toronto shows the Ontario Government raised the threshold for exiting the lower “Orange-Restrict” category and moving to the “Red-Control” category in early November from 40 cases to 100 new cases per 100,000 and the test positivity rate from 2.5 per cent to 10 per cent.

Dr. Etches repeated her statement last week that she wants to focus on keeping businesses open “as much as possible”, but wouldn’t recommend protections if cases increase.

“Earlier action is better.”

Mayor Jim Watson told CTV News Ottawa that Ottawa was inching closer to moving to the yellow stage, which would allow for a further loosening of restrictions. But Dr. Etches said Ottawa is still a “little ways” away from meeting the thresholds for weekly rates per 100,000 people and the positivity rate.

Ottawa Public Health reported 71 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, the highest one-day total in November. The new cases came after two straight days in the 20s.

Dr. Etches said the recent case numbers and the prospect of a vaccine are encouraging.

“The possibility of an effective vaccine gives us hope that while we still have a long road ahead there could soon be an end in sight,” said Dr. Etches.

“This hope may help us sustain our behaviours that protect each other.”

Ottawa Public Health is already looking at how to roll out the COVID-19 vaccine once it’s approved. Dr. Etches noted that because the vaccine may need to be stored at really cold levels, fixed sites may be used for the shot like flu shot clinics.

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