Ottawa’s top doctor urges people to proceed cautiously as COVID-19 restrictions eased

OTTAWA — As restaurant patios and non-essential businesses open in Ottawa for the first time in two months, the city’s top doctor is urging residents to “proceed cautiously” as the COVID-19 restrictions are eased.

And medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches believes this was the final lockdown Ottawa and Ontario will endure during the pandemic.

“I would be surprised if we had to go that far backwards. I don’t see that in the modelling and the projections from the science table,” said Dr. Etches in an interview on CTV Morning Live.

“The vaccines, again, are providing good protection, just not enough to only rely on vaccinations and that’s going to improve. We have to monitor, we have to see, so for now we still need that distance, we need masks for a bit longer but we know this is what we’re aiming for.”

The Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table said Thursday that COVID-19 cases in Ontario are dropping sharply, while the threat of a fourth wave caused by the delta variant still exists but is unlikely.

Ottawa entered Step 1 of Ontario’s Roadmap to Reopen plan at 12:01 a.m. Friday, allowing bar and restaurant patios to reopen, while non-essential retail may open at 15 per cent capacity. Outdoor gatherings of up to 10 people are permitted.

Dr. Etches is encouraging residents to continue following COVID-19 protocols, including maintaining two metres distance from people outside your household and wearing a mask when distancing is not possible.

“We want to make sure that people are choosing the lower risk activities, avoiding crowds – we’re not quite there yet,” said Dr. Etches when asked what’s on her radar as things reopen.

“We want to make sure that the level of COVID doesn’t start to rise exponentially.”

Ottawa will enter Step 2 of the reopening plan 21 days after the start of Step 1, as long as COVID-19 indicators are trending in a positive direction and COVID-19 vaccination rates are at 70 per cent for first doses and 20 per cent for second doses.

CTV Morning Live host Leslie Roberts asked Dr. Etches if she supports speeding up the start of Step 2.

“We need the time to be able to make sure that we’re not having a resurgence of COVID that leads to more hospitalizations in that exponential growth kind of way that leads to real challenge,” said Dr. Etches.

“What we want, what we’re aiming for is that the level of COVID stays low enough that it doesn’t lead to hospitalizations, and we’re seeing this is what the vaccines are enabling – we’re getting there. But not everyone has their two doses of vaccine that will really enable us to keep progressing to that point where COVID is manageable and people are staying out of hospital.”

As of Wednesday, 70 per cent of Ottawa residents had received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

“We can’t quite rely on the vaccine coverage yet, but we’ll get there and the caution is needed as we go to monitor to make sure we’re just keeping things under control,” said Etches.

The medical officer of health says she has no plans to celebrate Ottawa ending the lockdown, but she is optimistic about the summer for Ottawa.

“I’m feeling very, very positive. People have done a lot of hard work, businesses have struggled, and here we are able to take the next step cautiously going forward with lower risk activities that are outdoors,” said Etches.

“This is a good way to proceed.”

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