“Dangerous Territory”: How Ottawa-Gatineau Became a COVID-19 Hotspot and What to Do Now

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Public health officials in Ottawa and Gatineau are trying to figure out how the National Capital Region has become a COVID-19 “hot spot” and how to prevent the spread of the disease.According to a color-coded system, versions of which are now used in both Ontario and Quebec, Ottawa is currently orange, or “restricted”, while the Outaouais is one level below yellow, or “caution” . Green indicates limited risk while red indicates the situation is critical.

On Tuesday, after days of high caseloads in Ottawa, Premier Doug Ford regrouped the city with Toronto and Brampton as Ontario’s COVID-19 “hot spots”.

The city’s medical officer of health, Dr Vera Etches, on Wednesday reassured councilors about stabilizing the local situation, but warned against complacency.

This disease has a way of exploding when you least expect it.– Raywat Deonandan, epidemiologist

“We cannot relax. We are not red… but neither are we yellow, ”Etches said, referring to the color map of the province.

“We see that it doesn’t take much if we relax our physical distances, our masks inside, our home when we’re sick, that we can have rapid resurgences,” she says.

Etches pointed out that Ottawa was the largest city in Ontario to enter stages 2 and 3 of the reopening, and said that could partly explain the spike in cases the city is now seeing. The same goes for the fact that the city is linked by several bridges to the Outaouais, she said.

“We are truly a connected population. We see this when it comes to tracking situations where COVID has been identified in people who live and work both ways, ”Etches said.

Caryl Green, mayor of Chelsea, Que., Says the alert level in the Outaouais means residents must continue to be careful wearing masks and staying separated. 0:50

No plans to limit border crossings

In Quebec, the Outaouais is one of four regions in yellow, or early warning level of the system, along with Quebec, the Eastern Townships and Laval. The rest of the province, including Montreal, currently resides in the lowest tier.

In the Outaouais, health officials report that since the beginning of August, the largest increase in confirmed cases of COVID-19 has been in the 20 to 29 year age group.

In an update Wednesday morning, Dr Brigitte Pinard, regional director of public health, said contact tracing was proving difficult among these young people.

“We have confirmed cases in which the infected person has had close contact with more than 20 people,” Pinard said. “Some patients struggled to identify all of the people they had close contact with because they were going to events, meetings or parties where there were a high number of attendees. “

The Quebec government on Tuesday released a new color-coded alert system, with four levels based on three criteria: the epidemiological situation, the transmission rate and the capacity of the health system. (Ministry of Health)

Although Pinard echoed Etches’ comments on the interconnectivity between the two regions, she insisted that there was no plan to close the interprovincial crossings, as was done in April and May.

“We’re not there yet,” said Pinard. “If the situation evolves in a negative way in the coming weeks, we will see if the need arises to impose additional measures. For now, everyone is following the protocols. “

‘A dangerous time’

The increase in confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the National Capital Region comes as no surprise to epidemiologist and University of Ottawa associate professor Raywat Deonandan.

“This disease has a way of exploding when you least expect it,” Deonandan said. “You never know when you’re safe, and the lesson for me is that you have to stay alert all the time. “

Raywat Deonandan is a global health epidemiologist and associate professor at the University of Ottawa. (Provided by Raywat Deonandan)

Doenandan said Ontario may have to follow British Columbia’s lead, where after months of relatively low infection rates, officials moved on Tuesday to close nightclubs and banquet halls as a result. a recent surge in new cases.

“Maybe take a step back, shut down some things while keeping the economy broadly open, reassess in a few months and see where we are,” Deonandan said.

The imminent reopening of schools, the arrival of post-secondary students and the cooling temperatures that will soon push more of us indoors only add to the worry.

“It’s a dangerous time,” Deonandan said. “We are entering dangerous territory and we have to make some tough choices. ”

Vera Etches, medical officer of health, says the level of movement between Ottawa and Gatineau, combined with the gradual reopening, has contributed to a consistent level of COVID-19 cases. 1:23

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