Ottawa

Stay vigilant as COVID-19 restrictions loosen, health officials urge

As restrictions designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 gradually loosen, local public health officials are expressing cautious optimism about the pandemic's course — but reminding people to not let down their guard.

OPH reports 17 new cases, 9 deaths Friday, but downward trend continues

Vera Etches, with Ottawa Public Health, says the more close contacts people have, the higher the number of serious COVID-19 infections. 0:44

As restrictions designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 gradually loosen, local public health officials are expressing cautious optimism about the pandemic's course — but reminding people to not let down their guard.

This week saw the City of Ottawa allow park users to once again use certain types of infrastructure like benches, sports fields and picnic tables, although play structures remain off limits.

Travel checkpoints restricting visits from Ottawa to Gatineau have come down, and the National Capital Commission has increased access to both Gatineau Park and its sites in the Greenbelt.

"Now is not the time to ease up on our efforts that have been keeping this virus pinned down," said Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa's medical officer of health, during a Friday afternoon virtual news conference.

"We must continue to keep physical distancing and wear a cloth mask [when that's not possible] outside our household. These activities prevent infection."

17 new cases, 9 deaths

On Friday, Ottawa Public Health (OPH) announced 17 new cases of COVID-19 and nine new deaths since the previous day's report.

There have now been 1,885 laboratory-confirmed cases in Ottawa and 220 deaths since the start of the pandemic. There are also 20 current outbreaks in institutions such as long-term care homes.

WATCH: Public health agency asking people with even mild symptoms to get tested for COVID-19

Vera Etches, Ottawa’s chief medical officer of health, says anyone with symptoms of COVID-19 should get tested, though widespread testing of asymptomatic residents isn’t yet possible. 1:15

"We've seen a lot of deaths, mostly related to long-term care, and now we're seeing these deaths decrease. So I think that's really good news," said Dr. Doug Manuel, senior scientist at The Ottawa Hospital.

Manuel told Friday's news conference there's been a "steady decrease" in admissions to intensive care units, with only two people currently in the ICU at The Ottawa Hospital.

However, the downward trends are "very, very tenuous," Manuel said — and while smart physical distancing measures could prevent a second wave of COVID-19, there's also the potential for a "dramatic" increase in cases if those measures aren't adhered to.

Medical staff participate in a training session as they prepare for the opening of the COVID-19 assessment centre at Ottawa's Brewer Arena in March. Public health officials say discussions are underway to open up testing to asymptomatic people. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Testing of asymptomatic people considered

While COVID-19 testing is currently available to anyone in Ottawa who is potentially showing symptoms, Etches said Friday discussions were underway to figure out when it would make sense to expand that to include asymptomatic people.

Those tests have already been done in long-term care and retirement homes, Etches said, as well as two homeless shelters this week.

"Ottawa's testing capacity has grown significantly since the declaration of the virus in Canada. But we still do not have the capacity to test everybody in Ottawa," Etches said.

She also reminded people it was OK to feel emotionally overwhelmed as restrictions come down and they see others — even casual acquaintances — face-to-face for the first time in weeks.

"I for one did get a little emotional yesterday when I saw the person who I usually see at the coffee shop down the street when it reopened after two months," Etches said. "This is normal during times of stress and uncertainty."

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