SHERRING: Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa’s reluctant public figure and rock star
In the world of Ottawa Public Health, Dr. Vera Etches has become a bit of a rock star, and no one is more uncomfortable with the description than Etches herself.
In an interview with the Ottawa Sun, Etches talked about what life has been like as the head of the city’s health unit during the global COVID-19 pandemic. Becoming a public figure hasn’t been easy, but she doesn’t let that distract her from the task at hand.
“I do find that aspect a little strange that people recognize me in my day-to-day work. In these kinds of things, we do our job, which is to measure the health of the city. That’s what we need to address,” she said. “We’ve learned we can do better.”
Her leadership has certainly caught the attention of city council.
“Dr. Etches and the OPH team have been a source of strength for Ottawa,” Capital Coun. Shawn Menard said.
“She really is being very consistent and strong, it’s not easy,” Bay Coun. Theresa Kavanagh said.
Peter Tilley, the head of the Ottawa Mission and a member of the Ottawa Public Health board, couldn’t say enough good things about her.
“She’s responded admirably and has shown a great leadership role in a time of crisis,” Tilley said.
Life has changed dramatically for Etches since COVID thrust her into the spotlight. It’s been more stress than she bargained for. Imagine being the one person some people believe can save them from the pandemic.
Her discomfort with the spotlight and an active presence on Twitter has endeared Etches to the city. Back in September 2020, she tweeted about forgetting to put on her skirt before a long day of work: “Oh my goodness! I was dressing in the dark this morning and distracted by setting up a surprise for my boys, hurrying to talk with Rob Snow on 1310 News … but I still can’t believe I made it to City Hall without my skirt on under my rain jacket! Yikes! Time for another break…” she tweeted.
“My husband has delivered my skirt, so I’m decent again. Thank you.”
It only made people appreciate her more: “Maybe it’s time to give up wearing a skirt anyway. Join the club and live in your stretchy yoga wear,” Janet Kemp tweeted.
Nearly a year later, Etches has taken it all in stride. “I wasn’t seeing my kids as much, I was trying to set up something up for my sons before it was light out and I didn’t want to wake anyone,” she said, adding it taught her that “we need to be reasonable with ourselves.”
And, with the COVID situation finally seeming to be looking up, there’s reason for optimism.
“More people are getting immunized,” she said, not taking credit for Ottawa’s high rates of vaccination, although she could.
“There’s a strong team within Ottawa Public Health, and everyone has really got us to this point.”