That was the grim news Dr Brent Moloughney, Ottawa’s deputy medical officer of health, delivered during a four-hour technical briefing on the COVID-19 disease on Wednesday. It was one dark detail after another.
The cases are reaching exorbitant records. More than 10% of COVID-19 tests come back positive, indicating a level of community transmission higher than ever.
Worse yet, nearly 100 COVID-19 patients are in Ottawa-area hospitals, a volume expected to double within about a week. Already, non-emergency operations at the premises have been canceled due to staff shortages.
“We’ve never seen anything like it,” Moloughney said.
And that’s with the provincial restrictions, including a stay-at-home order, already in place. So what else are city authorities doing about it?
Closing a few parks a few hours earlier and getting people to wear masks on basketball courts and in skateparks.
The dichotomy between Moloughney’s dire warnings about the COVID-19 situation and the actions taken could not be more striking.
Mask to be made compulsory in certain park situations
Angered by reports of illegal collection, alcohol consumption and littering in Vincent Massey Park last weekend, Mayor Jim Watson this week launched the idea of closing all parks at 8 p.m. in order to avoid the late night shenanigans. But there was hardly any participation from the advisers. Green spaces are necessary for mental and physical well-being, they said, especially for those who do not have their own land.
As most of the councilors told CBC via email, they’re more concerned about gatherings they attend in their local parks during the day, whether it’s a gang of kids playing football, a multi-family barbecue or young adults lounging in a city. range of chips sharing, that all that happens after hours.
The city has therefore chosen the reasonable plan of closing some of the larger parks where the party takes place at 9 p.m., and with the agreement of the local councilor.
That leaves the daytime rally issues – and that’s where Ottawa Public Health (OPH) comes in.
Moloughney said officials would present a Section 22 order under the Health Protection and Promotion Act by this weekend to make masks mandatory at some popular park amenities, such as basketball courts. The rules will be similar to those adopted last winter, when SPO limited the number of people allowed on the sled slopes and masks must be worn near the rinks.
Make the rules simple, break them down at home
When asked why he wouldn’t just impose masks in parks all the time – the way they are, say, public transit – Moloughney said that SPO “tries to be balanced” in its approach. .
“Many times you can walk in a park and there is nobody or very little and it is very easy to walk around and distance yourself.
While Moloughney’s recommendation that people wear masks with them and put them on if it looks like people are starting to congregate may seem reasonable, it’s not entirely foolproof.
Specifically, the simpler the rules, the more people will post them.
Wearing a mask if you’re going to a park (unless you’re a toddler or have a medical reason not to) is pretty straightforward to figure out. Take one out of your pocket and put it on if needed, which offers a lot of leeway that we can’t afford right now.
We are already struggling to understand the rules.
Even Moloughney misspoke when asked by Coun. Glen Gower if people should get together with family and friends for an alfresco meal or a drink on lawn chairs in their aisles.
“There is a difference between what is allowed and what is a good idea,” he said, adding that gatherings of five people outside are legal.
In fact, under the stay at home order, people can only leave their homes for essential purposes, and socialization is not one of them. A spokesperson for the Solicitor General of Ontario confirmed that “individuals may gather in groups of no more than five people, only for the reasons listed in the stay-at-home order. There are exceptions for certain religious gatherings ”.
Frankly, the language of the order could be more explicit about outdoor gatherings. No wonder the general public is confused.
We’ve spent the last year being told what it takes to flatten the curve. Considering it doesn’t flatten out now, maybe right now we need some clear and simple rules to help bend that curve, repeated over and over again. Only do things with members of your household, including outdoors. If you go out, wear a mask.
These rules are no fun, but they are easy to understand. And, they would be easier to apply.
Strengthen the application
And even though people are tired and frustrated with this seemingly endless pandemic, maybe it’s time for a little more stick and a little less carrot.
Over the past weekend, the city was inundated with more than 420 calls from the public reporting volleyball games, big Airbnb parties and even churches breaking COVID-19 regulations.
We have all seen plenty of evidence of groups taking advantage of the unusual weather and clearly breaking the rules of gathering.
Status officers also saw them, DiMonte said. And he agrees that these activities – whether it’s a volleyball game or a picnic – are illegal, but often his officers use their “discretion.”
Given the anger over the current restrictions and criticism that the city was criticized last year for being too harsh with the imposition of fines, this approach is understandable.
Yet a year ago we fined some teenagers who shot hoops on their own. Today, with a much more alarming situation, fewer fines are being imposed and the city cannot bring itself to impose the wearing of masks in city parks.
Officials have often said that we cannot force our way out of the pandemic. But a year later, with the number of cases and transmission worse than ever, isn’t it worth trying to force our exit for the next few weeks, just a little?