First teleconference council meeting a declaration of emergency

OTTAWA – A first for an Ottawa City Hall council meeting, a nearly empty council chambers declared a state of emergency today (March 25) approved by teleconference.

Mayor Jim Watson declared a state of emergency for the City of Ottawa due to the spread of COVID-19 in Ottawa. This aligns with Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s announcement on Monday, March 23 that he is expanding Ontario’s state of emergency to shut down all non-essential services.

“This will help us react more nimbly and more importantly work on a more flexible procurement process,” Watson told a council table, some council members and a bank of speakers for the many councillors calling in from home or their constituency office.

It was the first Ottawa City Hall council meeting to be held via conference call in the city’s history.

Declaring a state of emergency will help the city deploy its emergency operations and staff in a more nimble fashion. It will also enable a more flexible procurement process, which will help purchase equipment required by frontline workers and first responders as it becomes available in the coming weeks.

The mayor also wanted to thank the city’s healthcare workforce pointing out the “extraordinary efforts by our courageous health team. They are literally on the battle ground in the fight.”

The council update heard there were a total of 25 confirmed cases in Ottawa presently.

Chief medical officer Dr. Vera Etches said those numbers are already out of date and the confirmed cases are just “the tip of the iceberg.”

Dr. Etches said there is roughly a 14-day lag due to testing results and other delays.

“We know there is a time lag,” she said. “We’re learning from others. We’re seeing more people where there is no history of travel. We’re starting to see community spread.”

Ottawa Public Health (OPH) now has laboratory confirmation of the community spread of COVID-19 in Ottawa. The city is also starting to see cases among health care workers who have not travelled or been a close contact of a confirmed case. OPH recommends all residents practice physical (social) distancing or self-isolate, if applicable, to help stop the spread of the virus. Information about laboratory confirmed cases of COVID-19 is available on

 Etches says the number of OPH staff working on following up with confirmed cases have increased from 10 to 60. Although that number is not nearly enough.

“It seems the average number of people contacted by those who have contracted COVID-19 is about 16 people,” Etches said. “That’s what we’re trying to change.”

Etches said the communication aspect is “a key part” to fighting the spread and “sourcing PPEs a priority.”

City management also updated council on COVID-19 State of Emergency preparations.

“We’re working hard to focus on the right things,” city manager Steve Kanellakos said. “Our city staff are providing essential services at great risk and stress on themselves. They still come to work, and we need them to come to work. A huge thank you.”

Kanellakos said they are dealing with things changing hour to hour and “the pace feels very rapid.”

A timeline of current circumstances:

  • Jan. 23: City staff begin monitoring global spread of COVID-19 with OPH.
  • March 5: City enters enhanced operations and engages city departments to prepared for the arrival of the virus.
  • March 11: First case of COVID-19 is confirmed in Ottawa. City activates emergency operations centre.
  • March 12: Province announces schools will close until at least April 6. City recommends staff work from home.
  • March 13: City announces pending closure of rec centres, libraries and events with more than 250 people.
  • March 17: Ontario declares state of emergency. City announces further closures to counter services and restricts access to visitors at long-term care homes. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announces $82 billion aid package.
  • March 18: Canada/U.S. border closure to non-essential traffic.
  • March 23: Ontario announces closure of all non-essential businesses for March 25. Schools unlikely to re-open April 6.
  • March 25: City of Ottawa declares state of emergency. Non-essential businesses in Ontario shut down; Federal government passes $82 billion aid package.

Following the declaration, the city formally requested the Province of Ontario give the city flexibility to manage movement of staff, to redeploy resources, to support essential services and to be adaptable as this situation continues to evolve rapidly.

Kanellakos says one of the first orders of business for city staff is “looking at how to provide free childcare for frontline health workers. We’re looking at potential locations.”

 Kanellakos said the city will strike a Community Economic Confidence Taskforce now to look after concerns down the road.

“We will be in the recovery phase at some point,” Kanellakos said. “This is a very important step.”

The most current information will be shared with residents on and the city’s social media channels. Ottawa Public Health will continue to provide updates on COVID-19 in Ottawa on

What you can do

If you have respiratory symptoms, such as a fever or cough:

  • You must self-isolate for 14 days, or 24 hours after your symptoms have fully resolved, whichever is longer.
  • You must not leave your home.
  • If your symptoms are worsening to a point where you cannot manage at home, please visit your nearest emergency department.

If you are returning from travel:

  • You must self-isolate for 14 days. Do not go to community settings, including the grocery store. If you need groceries or other essential items, have a family member, friend or neighbour get them for you and leave the items at your door.
  • If you have respiratory symptoms, follow the guidance in the section above.
  • If you do not have symptoms, practice physical (social) distancing as outlined below.
  • All Ottawa residents, except those listed above, should:
  • Practice physical (social) distancing.
  • Household contacts (people you live with) do not need to distance from each other unless they are sick or have travelled within the past 14 days.
  • Avoid all non-essential trips in the community.
  • Cancel all group gatherings.
  • Connect via phone, video chat or social media instead of in person.
  • Talk to your employer about working from home, if possible.
  • Avoid visiting elderly friends or relatives unless the visit is essential.
  • Avoid crowds and maintain a distance of two metres from other people when you go outside, like to take a walk.                    

For more information about city programs and services, visit or call 3-1-1 (TTY: 613-580-9656). You can also connect with us through FacebookTwitter and Instagram.