Ottawa

'I'm sounding the alarm': Etches issues dire warning as COVID-19 continues rapid spread

Ottawa's medical officer of health issued a dire warning to residents Friday, saying the entire health-care system is on the verge of collapse if individuals don't take personal responsibility to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Medical officer of health again urged people to limit close contacts or risk overburdening hospitals

Ottawa’s medical officer of health says the city has reached crisis territory as the virus continues to spread and asks people to limit their social interactions over the weekend. 1:23

Ottawa's medical officer of health issued a dire warning to residents Friday, saying the entire health-care system is on the verge of collapse if individuals don't take personal responsibility to slow the spread of COVID-19.

"Our health system is in crisis because of the COVID-19 pandemic," Dr. Vera Etches said during a video teleconference Friday morning. 

"As Ottawa's medical officer of health, I'm sounding the alarm. This is our warning bell. With this spike, we've entered crisis territory, and if we do not slow the transmission it will lead to stricter lockdown, closure of businesses, public venues, even schools."

Her comments came the same day Ottawa saw 142 new cases of COVID-19, setting a new daily record. The previous high was 105. Hospitalizations have also doubled over the last 10 days, Etches said.

Etches described a testing and contact tracing system that's "nearly broken" under the current demand, and said the city's hospitals and long-term care homes are stretched to capacity.

WATCH | Close contact driving spread:

Ottawa’s medical officer of health said hospitalizations have doubled over the past 10 days, and said the pressure on the health-care system is coming from transmission that occurs when people are in close contact. 0:59

The only way to immediately prevent the situation from getting worse, Etches said, is for individuals to limit their close contacts to their households and one or two other "essential supports" such as caregivers. With everyone else, they should wear masks and maintain a two-metre distance.

Otherwise, she said the city could soon see more than 200 new cases a day, and could face another lockdown.

"What can be done quickly is changing our behaviour," Etches said. "Prevention is the only way now, today, that we can slow the crisis in the rest of the health system."

Etches beseeched people to cancel plans to see each other this weekend to help slow the spread.

"Please, if you have plans to gather with friends or acquaintances this weekend, I'm asking you to reconsider. Our health-care system, our school system, our economy, our loved ones are all counting on you."

Ottawa saw more people test positive for COVID-19 in September than in any other month, as well as the highest number of active cases since the pandemic began. Some experts predict October will be worse, placing further strain on the health-care system.

Etches said some people are waiting up to a week for test results, and expressed concern that some of them may be out in the community spreading the virus without knowing it.

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