Modified Stage 2 'likely' for Eastern Ontario Health Unit

The Eastern Ontario Health Unit says the region will likely return to a modified Stage 2, meaning the possible closure of indoor bar and restaurants, gyms, casinos and other businesses within the coming days.

Public health officials to decide on further closures after meeting with province

Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, seen here in the early days of the pandemic, says the area covered by the Eastern Ontario Health Unit will 'likely' follow Ottawa and return to a modified Stage 2, forcing dine-in restaurants, gyms and other businesses to close their doors. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

The Eastern Ontario Health Unit (EOHU) says the region will likely return to a modified Stage 2, meaning the possible closure of indoor bar and restaurants, gyms, casinos and other businesses within the coming days.

The health unit, which has recorded 435 COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic and has seen a recent surge in new cases, oversees communities including Hawkesbury, Alexandria, Clarence-Rockland and Cornwall.

"I think the chances are that we will likely be put into Stage 2, modified, for a variety of reasons, including the fact that we're very close to Ottawa," Paul Roumeliotis, the region's medical officer of health, told CBC Radio's All In A Day Monday.

"We're very close to Quebec. Both hot spots on both sides," he said.

The province ordered Ottawa, along with Toronto and Peel region, into a modified Stage 2 earlier this month.

EOHU has reported more cases so far this month than it did in the whole of September, Roumeliotis said, with another 26 confirmed cases added over the weekend. 

The region confirmed 95 new COVID-19 cases in the last week alone.

'Teetering' on high-risk threshold

Another death reported by the health unit on Monday is connected to an outbreak at the Prescott and Russell Residence in Hawkesbury.

There are currently five outbreaks in long-term care homes in the region. 

"If you're between five and 25 cases, you know, over a seven-day period per 100,000 people, you're in the moderate range," Roumeliotis said. "But once you go 25 or above, over a seven-day period, that's where science has shown us that that's when you have to start closing down more things.... We're actually teetering on that number right now."

Roumeliotis said the health unit will discuss the matter with the provincial government and make an announcement in the coming days. 

'We have to trust them'

He said his team knows that any tightening of restrictions can have severe consequences for local business owners.

"On the other hand, if we see the numbers rising, we need to act sooner rather than later," he said. 

Greg Pietersma is the executive director of the Cornwall Chamber of Commerce. (Submitted by Greg Pietersma)

Greg Pietersma, executive director of the Cornwall Chamber of Commerce, said he's concerned about any changes that further tighten the current rules, particularly those that affect restaurants.

Pietersma said he's been amazed at how businesses have adapted to the hardships thrown their way so far, but said the longer restrictions are in place, the greater his concern.

"I would be hesitant to say that this is going to be catastrophic," he said. "Although you wonder how much longer these businesses can continue to operate."

He said communities along the St. Lawrence River haven't been as hard hit compared to some communities along the Ottawa River, and hopes EOHU considers that when making its decision.

"Having said all that, like, we have to trust them," he said. "And if they make the determination that we have to roll back, I just hope that they're right and that they keep it as short as possible."

With files from All In A Day

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