OTTAWA – As the number of new COVID-19 cases continues to rise across Canada, the infection rate in Ottawa has been going in the other direction for weeks, putting the city on the right track to flatten the pandemic curve once again.
The city’s chief physician, Dr. Vera Etches, said that much of the credit goes to people who live here, who wore masks – in some cases, such as on public transport, forced to do so earlier than others in across Canada – and stay home.
There was a time in early October when Ottawa, despite its initial success in smoothing the curve in the spring, experienced an increase in COVID-19 cases that saw the city double the number of cases seen in Toronto and the Peel region at that time. Now, the number of new cases is again much lower than in these areas.
There were 55 new cases of COVID-19 in Ottawa on Friday, which represents a larger daily jump from the beginning of the week, but still puts the city at 5.89 new cases per 100,000 inhabitants. Toronto, however, reported 18.08 new cases per 100,000 people on Friday and in the Peel Region there were 37.42 new cases per 100,000.
“It’s really thanks to the people in Ottawa and the employers and others who are doing their part to make this possible,” Etches said at a news conference this week, adding that people have increased their distance from others, wore masks and stayed at home when they were sick.
“These are the things that can really bring down COVID in a community.”
Etches said Ottawa Public Health emphasized the importance of wearing masks at the beginning of the pandemic and, in June, the city became the first in Canada to make them mandatory on public transport.
“Building a new behavior, a new culture where you always have a mask with you when you go out, which has been around for a little longer, this may have helped,” she said.
Meanwhile, employers in Ottawa, a city of just over a million, have allowed people to follow the advice of public health officials, allowing them to work at home and stay at home when they are sick, rather than at home. other cities, she said.
Twenty-four percent of workers in Ottawa work in public administration jobs, according to the Ottawa Employment Hub, the workplace planning council. Some 120,000 people in the National Capital Region, which includes neighboring Gatineau, Que., Work for the federal government, which has allowed most of its employees to work from home since March.
“The federal government is leading by example,” said Lavagnon Ika, professor of project management at the University of Ottawa.
He said that government managers and directors are often reluctant to allow people to work remotely before the pandemic, but that has changed. “Because of COVID-19, people learned (how to) make it work,” he said
Ika said that information technology companies in Ottawa have also allowed their employees to work remotely because they already have the technology to do so and their employees are trained to use it.
“If you don’t have a centralized information system for all your teams, you can’t work remotely,” he said. “I’m talking about video conferencing tools and artificial intelligence assistance tools.”
He said some of the high-tech companies in Ottawa had employees working remotely and customers from all over the world before COVID-19, listing local e-commerce giant Shopify as one of them. “They urgently need remote work due to the geographic distribution of some of the team members and their customers,” said Ika.
The well-integrated health system in eastern Ontario has also helped to respond to the pandemic efficiently, said Dr. Robert Cushman, medical director of health for Renfrew County and District Health Unit near Ottawa.
“What you saw in Ottawa, for example, is that there is very close work between hospitals, the public health facility and the city, and that extends to outlying areas,” said Cushman, who was Ottawa’s medical director. in 1996 to 2005.
“We worked on this together from the beginning,” he said. “There is a lot of cohesion.”
Having all of the hospital’s labs working together through a regional association when it comes to testing COVID-19 is another factor, said Cushman, as efficient testing is the key to aggressive and thorough screening of how the new coronavirus performs. spreads through contacts.
“Is your lab’s response time short enough that you can really reach it and even stay ahead of it?” he said, adding that it has been a challenge to do this across Canada and even the rest of Ontario. “If you’re waiting six days for a test, I mean, this virus can go into a second (or) third generation.”
There were many stories about long lines at the COVID-19 test sites in Ottawa in September, when the children returned to school, but this has also improved, including through the ability to schedule test appointments online.
Cushman said he also believes that people in Ottawa tend to trust the public health unit and health professionals, which leads to more people following his directions.
“There is a spirit of community here to do the right thing,” he said.
But Etches warned people in Ottawa not to relax too much, as cases of COVID-19 in the city are decreasing. She was speaking on Tuesday, when Ottawa reported 19 new cases. On Friday, there were 55 new COVID-19 cases reported.
“We think we are on the right track, but it is very tenuous,” said Etches, who is telling families to celebrate Christmas and other seasonal holidays only with people in their immediate homes to prevent potential outbreaks of COVID-19.
“Ottawa Public Health had the highest COVID rate in early October and we can go back there again.”
This Canadian Press report was first published on November 28, 2020