By Charlie Senack, Barrhaven Independent
With the Easter long weekend just days away, there are concerns COVID-19 cases will continue to rise and not peak until mid-May.
On April 13, Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, sent out a special statement encouraging people to tread with caution if gathering over Easter.
Wastewater levels are off the charts reporting higher infection rates than ever before, hospitalizations are on the incline, and more classes and schools are shutting down due to a swarm of COVID-19 infections. Like over Christmas and other holidays, Easter is expected to make matters even worse.
“Spending time with family and friends is important for mental health, so if you are planning to gather with others, I encourage everyone to continue to assess your individual risk and the risk of those with whom you plan to gather,” Etches said in her statement.
While not putting a certain cap on what size gatherings should be, Etches said being outdoors always limits COVID-19 transmission. If indoors, make sure you’re in a well ventilated space, open windows, and keep masks on if close together.
Section 22 Order Not Off The Table
About an hour later, Etches responded to questions from the media relating to the COVID-19 situation in Ottawa, and if more restrictions could be imposed.
While Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health has said no to bringing back mask mandates or other restrictions, Etches is using a different tone.
While ruling out implementing a section 22 order for now, Etches said it’s still on the table for future use if needed
“I’m not planning to issue a Section 22,” Etches told reporters after Wednesday’s council meeting. “I still look at that all the time, it’s not off the table forever – it is today.”
While cases are spreading at alarming rates, hospitalizations, a key indicator health experts look at when making decisions, are remaining stable.
‘While it is very striking the amount of COVID in our community, it isn’t resulting in a significant level of severe illness in terms of the hospitalizations – they’re remaining very moderate compared to previous waves,” Etches said. “We know it is always better to prevent illness than to wait until something severe shows up, and so we are in conversations with the province, the chief medical officer of health.”
After the briefing with reporters, Etches met with Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Kieran Moore to review the COVID-19 situation in the capital, and across the province. She seemed to hint the discussion of further mask mandates could come up.
Etches told the Barrhaven Independent she would like to see a clear framework from the province as to what thresholds need to be met in order to bring back restrictions. She also wants to see what can be done to expand mask use in public space.
No matter what government officials choose, Etches says it’s up to us to play our risk cards right.
“Our actions matter. Some of this is driven very much by the number of close contacts we have,” she told the Barrhaven Independent during a press conference. “The waste water is rising, but it’s rising a little bit less rapidly. Is that right before it’s going to plateau and turn? Of course we hope so, but we don’t know, so it’s important we continue with measures we know decrease COVID transmission.”
While previous COVID-19 waves have lasted about six weeks, this one could prove to be different as the virus mutates and becomes more transmissible. Etches is hoping for a positive outcome, but says it’s too soon to say.
“We have more immunity in the population, it’s preventing more serious illness, but we have such high levels right now, will it stay around longer? These are unanswered questions,” said Etches. “I hope the science table will come out with more information that speaks to this.