Ottawa 'losing the race' against COVID-19 variants: Etches

Ottawa's medical officer of health says the current provincewide shutdown is not sufficient to halt gatherings and curb the surge in COVID-19 cases, especially given the rapid rise in variants of concern.

Etches co-signed letter to province calling for stricter measures to curb rise

Dr. Vera Etches co-signed a letter on Sunday, along with the medical officers of health in Toronto and Peel Region, asking Ontario's chief medical officer of to implement even stricter measures. (CBC)

Ottawa's medical officer of health says the current provincewide shutdown is not sufficient to halt gatherings and curb the surge in COVID-19 cases, especially given the rapid rise in variants of concern.

Etches, along with her counterparts in Toronto and Peel Region, penned a letter to Ontario's Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams over the weekend calling for stricter measures to be implemented, including a stay-at-home order.

As of Monday, Ottawa has more than 600 confirmed or suspected COVID-19 cases involving variants of concern. The majority of the confirmed cases involved the B117 variant first reported in the U.K. (There is a delay between suspected and confirmed cases as it takes weeks to genetically sequence a sample to confirm which variant it is.)

"We're losing the race against the variant of concern. We need to make sure we stay home to stop that transmission of COVID, until the vaccine is going to be in place to do that for us," said Etches.

She said some of the regular measures used to control COVID-19 — staying two metres apart and wearing masks — will help control the spread of variants of concern.

The problem is not everyone may be as careful as they think they are, hence the need for masks.

"The challenge with outdoors is sometimes people aren't paying attention quite to the two metres, you know, you're closer than that maybe on a sidewalk," she told CBC Monday.

"Adding in masks outdoors helps. It provides an additional barrier."

Speaking to CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning on Tuesday, Etches elaborated, saying there's evidence people mixed households and spread COVID-19 on patios, during barbecues and playing sports two weeks ago, when temperatures reached the teens for the first time in months.

"The nice weather helps a lot, to be outside," said Sultana Molla, who was enjoying the warm temperatures with her family Monday in Andrew Haydon Park.

Yet, with the growth in the number of variants of concern, she's considering having her kids wear masks even when playing outside.

"I would be worried about sending the kids outside just going for a bike ride right, around the neighbourhood. That they might be too close to somebody accidentally," she said.

Sultana Molla says she's considering making her kids wear masks even when riding their bicycles to help lower the risk of them contracting COVID-19. (Robyn Miller/CBC)

Etches said if the province doesn't heed the call for more restrictive measures, she will consider implementing some locally, but said measures are more effective if done on a larger scale and wants to give the province this week to examine its options.

She said evidence suggests it's still more harmful from a health and economic perspective to close schools than to keep them open because the spread of the coronavirus is being better managed in school settings than outside them.

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