Ottawa Public Health wants to monitor how people are complying, coping with social distancing

Ottawa’s top doctor said Monday the city’s public health unit is exploring how it can monitor whether people are complying and coping with instructions to practice social distancing and self-isolation in order to curb the spread of COVID-19.

“I think that the feedback we have is that people are taking it seriously and there are exceptions and people are concerned about the exceptions,” Dr. Vera Etches, the city’s chief medical officer, said in a teleconference.

In recent days, health officials at all levels of government in Canada have doubling down on orders to practice social distancing to help contain transmission of the novel coronavirus.

In plain language, that means limiting the number of people with whom you come into close contact and maintaining a distance of two metres from other individuals.

Etches said Ottawa Public Health not only wants to find out if people in the national capital are taking those directives seriously, but also how they’re managing to continue social distancing and what kind of challenges they’re facing.

“There may be things we can do to help people over time. If they’re having trouble with their mental health, we need to monitor what’s happening,” she said.

To accomplish this, the public health agency is looking “a few different tools,” including polling, according to Etches. That could involve phoning people and surveying how they’re doing and what measures they’re taking.

Ottawa Public Health is also exploring “using aggregated data,” potentially from “electronic sources” like cellphones, the top doctor added.

“That kind of information that would tell us: are people congregating or not,” Etches said. “You can tell that by some of the use of electronic media.”

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