Ottawa

Ottawa's chief medical officer urges mask use as Ontario opens up

As more Ontario businesses and recreation spots prepare to open, Dr. Vera Etches is driving home her recommendation to wear a mask when outside — especially for people who can't keep two metres away from others.

Province launches 1st phase of reopening plan this weekend

Paul Pedersen wears a mask quilted by his wife as he walks in Ottawa. The city's chief medical officer of health, Dr. Vera Etches, is reiterating that people should wear masks, particularly as more businesses are set to reopen this weekend. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

As more Ontario businesses and recreation spots prepare to open, Ottawa's chief medical officer is driving home her recommendation to wear a mask when outside — especially for people who can't keep two metres away from others.

Masks were initially not recommended over concern people would touch their face more often and spread the virus. But in early April health officials changed their tune, saying a cloth mask can actually halt its spread, even if it might not keep the wearer from getting sick.

"We do recommend it strongly," reiterated Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa's medical officer of health, during a media update Friday.

"This is something, if we can accomplish it on a large scale across our community, [that's] going to be very important as we interact more: to have these additional protections against the spread of the virus."

Etches said she recognizes not everyone can wear a mask, like people with certain medical conditions.

Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa's medical officer of health, says she'll be watching how COVID-19 cases impact hospitals as the province reopens. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

Seeking 'equilibrium'

Marinas, private campgrounds and golf course driving ranges are among the businesses that can reopen Saturday, as part of the Ontario government's first phase of relaunching the economy.

On Tuesday, that list will expand to include other businesses like pet care grooming services, tennis clubs, and retail stores outside of malls with street-level entrances.

As the province reopens, Etches said she'd be keeping an eye on a few factors — including hospital capacity and the level of infection in the community — to see if restrictions will need to be strengthened again. 

"What we're looking for is an equilibrium or a nice balance," she said.

A man uses his phone as he walks past a store on selling masks May 14, 2020 in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Etches said she couldn't cite an exact number of daily cases that would spur public health officials to reimpose restrictions. Local hospitals, she added, currently have enough capacity to handle new cases that might arise from businesses reopening.

"So the upper limit of the hospital capacity is more flexible now," Etches said. 

"People have plans to be able to scale up more beds if they're needed. And so I think that this is going to be a dynamic situation that we follow."

Ottawa Public Health has also been able to trace the contacts of 90 per cent of cases within 24 hours, she added.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Natalia is a multi-platform journalist in Ottawa. She has also worked for CBC in P.E.I. and Newfoundland and Labrador.

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