Where are we exposed to COVID-19? One in four Ottawa cases linked to social settings outside household

OTTAWA — Ottawa residents are being exposed to COVID-19 in homes, backyards, cottages, bars and restaurants and during events with family and friends like birthday parties, weddings and house warmings.

Ottawa Public Health says one in four residents who tested positive for COVID-19 during the first two weeks of September were exposed to the virus at social gatherings in indoor and outdoor settings. One in two cases of COVID-19 through the first two weeks of September were linked to household contacts with confirmed cases of COVID-19.

Speaking with reporters Wednesday afternoon, Dr. Jennifer LeMessurier of Ottawa Public Health said social interactions in indoor or outdoor settings with members outside of household bubbles are “a major driver” of transmission in Ottawa.

Ottawa Public Health reported 64 new cases of COVID-19 in Ottawa on Wednesday, after 105 new cases of novel coronavirus were announced on Tuesday.

Ottawa Public Health released data on Ottawa residents who have tested positive for COVID-19 during the first two weeks of September.  OPH says it found:

  • One in two people who tested positive have been exposed to the virus through their household.  Ottawa Public Health notes the first person with COVID-19 in the household obtained it while in the community.
  • One in four people who test positive are exposed to the virus from members outside of their household through social interactions in indoor or outdoor settings.
  • One in 10 people who test positive without an identified close contact may be exposed to the virus in areas where we are seeing neighborhood clusters.
  • Three per cent of people who tested positive for COVID-19 are linked to a school outbreak
  • One in three people over the age of 40 that tested positive for COVID-19 were exposed through an outbreak to the virus, particularly in long-term care or retirement homes

“Transmission is occurring through people connected by social interactions, in complex networks across the city,” said Dr. Jennifer LeMessurier of Ottawa Public Health.

Ottawa Public Health released a graphic showing the different exposure sites for COVID-19 in Ottawa, saying, “Exposure occurs in a variety of settings.”

The graphic, titled “COVID-19: Where are we exposed?” shows COVID-19 cases linked to lunchrooms and other shared employee areas at offices, indoor gatherings, daycare centres, outdoor gatherings like parks and barbecues, schools, travel and in bars and restaurants when dining with those outside of your household bubble.

COVID-19 in Ottawa

Dr. LeMessurier told reporters that social interactions in indoor or outdoor settings is a “major driver of transmission in Ottawa and is happening at social gatherings.”

“In places like homes, backyards, cottages, short stay apartments, hotels, restaurants and bars, during events with family and friends like birthday parties, weddings and house warmings.”

Dr. LeMessurier added Ottawa Public Health is seeing those gatherings within the Ottawa region, but also learning of settings where people have been exposed by travel to Quebec and elsewhere in Canada.

Ottawa Public Health said the one-in-four people exposed to COVID-19 through social settings had been in several locations, and it is difficult to pinpoint the exact moment of transmission.

“It’s really about the exposure, so they’ve identified that these are places they’ve been in the days preceding their diagnosis,” said Dr. LeMessurier.

“What we’re noticing is that in some cases, we’re seeing people have been lots of different places where’re they’ve been at risk of exposure to the virus.”

Limit close contacts to your household

The medical officer of health is urging people to limit their social gathering to a few close contacts, mainly the members of your household.

“The best way to limit your exposure to COVID-19 is to practice physical distancing and limit your close contacts to those with your household, and one or two essential supports like childcare and caregivers,” said Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa’s Medical Officer of Health. 

“Additional layers of protection include wearing a mask, staying home when sick and washing your hands regularly.”

The medical officer of health is asking people to be careful with their contacts as the COVID-19 transmission rises in the community.

“I am advising that you don’t go out to a restaurant with (people) outside of your household if you’re going to eat and drink, which is generally what you do in restaurants, because that becomes close contact. Then you’re sitting within two metres without a mask on,” said Dr. Etches.

“I’m asking people to be more careful right now. We can’t manage the level of COVID in our community continuing to grow.”

With Thanksgiving just over a week away, Dr. Etches is recommending people avoid large gatherings for the holiday and keep dinner to people in your household.

“I’m recommending against travelling, adding to your household beyond that.”

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