Ottawa

Large indoor gatherings behind rapid rise in COVID-19 cases

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Ottawa continues to climb to daily totals not seen since May, before Stage 1 of the province's reopening plan.

OPH reports 43 new cases Tuesday, up from 20 on Monday. Ottawa hasn't seen case numbers this high since May

Brent Moloughney, Ottawa’s associate medical officer of health, says the rise in COVID-19 cases is not necessarily due to businesses reopening but to indoor gatherings among younger residents. 0:55

A spike in the number of COVID-19 cases in the capital is being attributed to young people having large indoor gatherings with people outside their social circles, according to public health authorities.

Ottawa Public Health (OPH) reported 43 new cases on Tuesday, the the largest single-day increase since May. Tuesday's total was more than double the 20 new cases reported Monday. Of the 43 new cases, a little more than half are people under age 30, a demographic  that's been the focus of health officials in recent days.

"We've perhaps gotten a little excited by things opening up, by summer weather, and we're seeing the consequences of that in terms of increased cases and so we need to proceed with more caution," said Dr. Brent Moloughney, Ottawa's associate medical officer of health in a news conference Tuesday afternoon.

He said it's too soon to know if the recent uptick in cases will continue, but it's certainly a red flag.

Living long term with COVID-19 means balancing the need for people to work, socialize and reopen schools, with taking as many precautions as possible to reduce the risk of the novel coronavirus to a minimum. 

Moloughney said the new cases aren't related to increased testing in certain neighbourhoods, but people having "really risky" large indoor gatherings, either at home or cottages, when COVID-19 is still around.

"You don't know if people have it or not," he said, pointing out that people can be asymptomatic or have very mild symptoms and still be infectious.

A man wearing a mask during the COVID-19 pandemic crosses Wellington Street near Parliament Hill in Ottawa in July 2020. (Michel Aspirot/Radio-Canada)

He also attributed the rise in cases to confusion around social circles, with some people assuming they can have multiple groups of one group of 10 people.

Each person is allowed to be a "social bubble," which is supposed to be an exclusive group of 10 — including the people in your household — who can hug and kiss, and generally have close contact with each other without wearing masks. You're not supposed to be in more than one bubble.

Premier Doug Ford said in a news conference most younger people are following recommendations, but a small percentage are going "hog-wild."

"Don't go to a party. It's simple ... You're hurting people by doing this," he said.

Not due to Stage 3

Given the lag between when people are exposed to the virus, show symptoms and eventually get tested, the people testing positive over the past few days likely contracted the illness 10 to 14 days ago, said Moloughney. That means the increase doesn't have to do with Stage 3 of the province's reopening. It also isn't being attributed to Stage 2.

"If we reached a hypothetical point where we thought greater restrictions were needed, I think that would be a conversation with the province," he said "But I think at this point, there's a number of things that we can do locally to prevent the transmission."

Double-digit increases

It's been more than two months since Ottawa has seen this many new daily cases of COVID-19.  On May 3, OPH reported 63 new cases. On May 9, there were 41. 

Tuesday marks the fourth straight day of case counts increasing by double-digits. In the past two weeks, the number of active cases has more than doubled.

Ottawa has a total of 2,287 confirmed COVID-19 cases: 159 active, 1,865 considered resolved and 263 deaths.

The reports mark when OPH learns of and logs a confirmed case, not when it was diagnosed. 

Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said in a tweet the province's increase of 203 cases in its daily report is concerning.

Along with Ottawa, the health units in western Quebec, the Kingston, Ont., area and to the east of Ottawa are the only others in the region to report new cases in the last week.

No COVID-19 deaths have been reported in the wider region since June 25.

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