As Ottawa’s COVID-19 infection rate continues to climb, the city’s medical officer of health is strongly suggesting residents wear masks outdoors at all times.
Dr. Vera Etches told CBC Radio’s Ottawa Morning on Wednesday the risk of community spread is higher than ever, and said people should wear masks outside their homes whenever they can.
“People should wear masks when they’re outside of their house as much as possible. It’s an added barrier. You don’t know if you’re going to come into close contact with someone or not,” Etches said.
Previously, Ottawa Public Health (OPH) advised people to wear masks outside in situations where physical distancing was difficult. Masks are required in indoor public areas including common areas of condos and apartment buildings.
While the risk of transmission outdoors remains lower, Etches said it’s still possible to contract COVID-19 from an infectious person.
“Outdoors is much safer than indoors, but if you are right beside someone, you could breathe in their respiratory secretions,” she said. “We’re in a situation now where we need to have stronger protections.”
Her comments come a day after she announced a maximum of 25 people at outdoor rinks and other outdoor recreation areas such as toboggan hills and ski trails.
People should still avoid crowded outdoor areas of all kinds, Etches said.
Virus survives better in winter
Earl Brown, an emeritus professor of virology at the University of Ottawa, said viruses like the one that causes COVID-19 tend to survive better in winter. That’s because the aerosols expelled by infectious people — and the virus that clings to them — tend to last longer in cool, dry air than in hot, humid conditions.
“When we’re walking downtown, it makes obvious sense that you want to wear your mask. You’re passing people,” Brown said.
The risk of transmission is further increased with the appearance of new strains of the virus, Brown said.
“I think it’s it’s just wise to suggest that we sort of double up on our precautions.”
Though key indicators show COVID-19 levels have been steadily rising for about two weeks, the numbers don’t yet fully reflect the potential impact of holiday gatherings, public health officials say.