Ottawa

COVID-19 case drop could be short-lived if not careful, experts warn

Ottawa may be seeing a slight plateau of some key COVID-19 indicators after record highs earlier this month, but experts say now is not the time to let your guard down because a resurgence could just as easily be in the works.

Ottawa could see a similar summer to last year if key indicators continue to improve

People lounge about at an outdoor patio on a warm, sunny day in Ottawa during the COVID-19 pandemicin March. Dr. Doug Manuel says if the city's key COVID-19 indicators continue to decline, Ottawa could have a relatively similar summer to last year. (Brian Morris/CBC)

Ottawa may be seeing a slight plateau of some key COVID-19 indicators after record highs earlier this month, but experts say now is not the time to let your guard down because a resurgence could just as easily be in the works.

The viral signal in Ottawa's wastewater peaked at the beginning of April after rising significantly throughout March, but has dropped in the past couple of weeks, according to Tyson Graber, an associate research scientist at CHEO and co-lead investigator on Ottawa's coronavirus wastewater monitoring program.

Some other key COVID-19 indicators are also on a downward trend, including the incidence rate and number of people infected by a single case — which has been below one for a week, while the test positivity rate has remained around the same.

But even though the viral levels are going down, a drop from a pandemic high isn't worth celebrating just yet.

"The signal is still quite high and it's still at a level where we were not comfortable with," he said.

"That sustained disease burden in the city is just not sustainable in terms of, you know, hospitalization rates, so we can't continue like this."

Resurgence still possible

Graber said it's also too early to say whether or not the drop in the viral load is a true decrease or whether another increase is on the horizon.

You can go from 30 to 60 to 90 to 150 [cases] very quickly and what happens is, you know, we lose our ability to control it very quickly.- Dr. Doug Manuel, senior scientist at The Ottawa Hospital

Dr. Doug Manuel agrees. He said a good sign is hospitalizations are not increasing dramatically, but the number of people in hospital and the city's ICUs is still very high and even if hospitalizations are not increasing as dramatically as they were earlier this month, hospitals are still overwhelmed.

The amount of time people have to stay in hospital is also very long. So, while it may not take long to develop symptoms bad enough to end up in hospital, recovering from the illness takes time and is one of the reasons hospitals are so overwhelmed.

"During COVID, our survival has improved, but our length of stay, especially for ICU, has become longer," said Manuel.

Until the number of cases drop down to low double-digits, people have to continue to be careful, especially as more contagious variants of concern spread, he said.

"You can go from 30 to 60 to 90 to 150 [cases] very quickly and what happens is, you know, we lose our ability to control it very quickly."

Cautiously optimistic for 'half-decent summer'

Yet both Manuel and Graber see some good signs.

"It's really imperative that people continue heeding the public health restrictions — i.e. masking, physical distancing. This is what we know works and it is working. It's just that, unfortunately, we have to do it a bit longer," said Graber.

Manuel believes if things trend the right way, we may have a similar late summer to last year when people could sit on restaurant patios.

"The very early indications are that we might actually have, you know, knock on wood, a half-decent summer here in Ottawa."

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