'Just a matter of time' before coronavirus comes to Ottawa, top doctor says

The arrival of COVID-19 in Ottawa is "just a matter of time," the city's medical officer of health warned Monday.

Ottawa Public Health urging residents to be prepared, but not to panic

Ottawa's medical officer of health Vera Etches, left, Mayor Jim Watson, centre, and Coun. Keith Egli, chair of the city's board of health, offer an update on the city's preparations for the anticipated arrival of COVID-19. (Kate Porter/CBC)

The arrival of COVID-19 in Ottawa is "just a matter of time," the city's medical officer of health warned Monday.

As of Monday afternoon there are more than 89,000 cases of the respiratory illness worldwide, including 27 confirmed or presumptive cases in Canada — so far, none in Ottawa.

"I would say it certainly is probably just a matter of time until we get a case in Ottawa related to travel," said Dr. Vera Etches after briefing Mayor Jim Watson Monday.

"We understand that this situation that we're seeing worldwide causes great anxiety for people and their families," Watson added.

Stock up, but don't stockpile

Etches urged residents to continue going about their business and attending public gatherings, but to take some precautions, too.

People should stock up on necessities including food and medication, similar to preparing for any possible emergency scenario, Etches said.

"We say all the time, you need to be prepared for a winter storm, you need to be prepared for a power outage, and it's the same idea. People don't always take that step of making sure their cupboards aren't bare, right?" Etches said.

Dr. Vera Etches with the latest on COVID-19

COVID-19 is ‘not a severe infection for most people,’ OPH says

4 years ago
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Dr. Vera Etches, with Ottawa Public Health, says even though the coronavirus is spreading, most people will be able to get through the infection without serious consequence.

The Ontario Pharmacists Association is urging people not to stockpile prescription medications, and to speak with their pharmacist to avoid potential shortages.

"Pharmacies need to keep medications around so that when people are needing their medications it's available for them," said Allan Malek, the association's chief pharmacy officer and executive vice-president.

"If all of a sudden there is a huge drive to stockpile those very important medications for things like blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, other conditions, all of a sudden those medications become possibly in short supply, and when people really need them they're not available."

Majority won't need hospital care

More than 50 people have been tested for COVID-19 at Ottawa hospitals, Etches said.

If and when someone tests positive for the respiratory illness, Ottawa Public Health (OPH) will follow up with that patient and anyone they've been in contact with about the symptoms to look out for and steps to prevent further spread.

Hospitals also have negative pressure rooms to aid recovery, but most patients won't need to go to a hospital, Etches said.

"The reassuring aspect of this virus is that the majority of people, the vast majority, will be able to get through this illness without hospital care," she said.

Protective masks were a hot commodity at this Home Depot in Ottawa. (Kimberley Molina/CBC)

While there has been a shortage of both surgical masks and dust masks at a number of pharmacies and hardware stores, public health officials still say there's no reason for healthy people to wear them. Instead, people should be taking regular precautions such as washing their hands, covering their mouths when coughing and staying home when sick, Etches said.

With files from Judy Trinh