Ontario moving to Step 2 of reopening early as province sees 296 new COVID-19 cases
Ontario moving into Step 2 of reopening plan on June 30, 2 days ahead of schedule
Ontario's outgoing chief medical officer of health held his last COVID-19 briefing Thursday morning, as the province announced it will be moving into the next step of its reopening plan ahead of schedule.
Ontario will proceed into Step 2 of its "Roadmap to Reopen" plan on June 30, two days before it was originally slated to do so. CBC News first reported the news yesterday.
As part of the criteria for moving to Step 2, the province had set vaccination targets of 70 per cent of adults with one dose and 20 per cent fully immunized. Those two measures are now at more than 76 per cent and 29 per cent, respectively — also above the thresholds for Step 3, the final phase.
In a news release, the provincial government also pointed to decreasing numbers of COVID-19 patients being treated in intensive care units. As of Wednesday, there were 305 people with COVID-related illnesses in ICUs (including 10 from Manitoba), down from more than 450 about two weeks ago.
Step 2 further loosens public health restrictions, with indoor, masked social gatherings of up to five people allowed. Similarly, up to 25 people would be able to attend outdoor functions, while as many as six people could dine together on a patio.
Personal care services like hair stylists and nail salons would also reopen, as long as masks are worn at all times.
Moreover, capacity limits on essential retail will move to 50 per cent, up from 25 per cent in Step 1, while non-essential retail capacity increases to 25 per cent, as opposed to 15 per cent.
Overnight camps can also reopen.
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Province won't jump directly to Step 3, citing delta variant
Ontario will likely stay in Step 2 for 21 days as initially intended, the province said, to "allow the most recent vaccinations to reach their full effectiveness and to evaluate any impacts … on key public health and health care indicators."
Notably, Waterloo Region, which is battling a surge in cases driven by the more infectious delta variant of concern, will not advance to Step 2 with the rest of the province next week.
The region's medical officer of health said the move is meant to "avoid having to take a step back" and to allow residents have more time to be vaccinated, with a possible further reopening in mid-July.
"This approach gives us the best chance to hold onto the gains we have made," Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang said in a statement.
Ontario's COVID-19 Science Table estimates that the delta variant currently accounts for roughly 63 per cent of all new infections in the province.
The continued spread of delta is a primary reason why the province is not moving directly to Step 3 at this point, said Dr. David Williams, Ontario's outgoing chief medical officer of health, at a morning news conference.
"We can't be too casual, we have to watch how this unfolds," said Williams, adding that nearly one in four Ontarians have not had a first dose of vaccine.
'It has been a journey'
Williams was joined at his last COVID-19 briefing by his successor, Dr. Kieran Moore.
Williams, who is set to retire tomorrow, has served in the role of chief medical officer of health since mid-2015.
"It has been a journey. We have gone through many things together," Williams said of the last 18 months. The first case of COVID-19 in Ontario was confirmed on Jan. 25, 2020.
He added that it was "an honour" to serve as the province's top public health official.
For his part, Moore thanked Williams and said that residents of Ontario owe him a "significant debt of gratitude."
Moore, who was previously the local medical officer of health for Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington, will officially step into the new job on June 26.
"We have a lot of work still to do to continue to respond to this pandemic," Moore said. He added that key metrics are all "headed in the right direction" in the province, but said he agrees with Williams that a "cautious approach" to reopening is warranted.
"We have to really go slow and steady in the face of the delta strain becoming the dominant strain," he said.
The provincial government says regularly scheduled COVID-19 response updates will move from Mondays and Thursdays to Tuesdays under Moore.
296 new cases of COVID-19
The briefing came as Ontario reported another 296 cases of COVID-19 today, marking the fourth straight day with fewer than 300 infections.
The case count is down from last Thursday, when the province saw 370.
Labs completed more than 29,500 tests and Public Health Ontario logged a positivity rate of 1.1 per cent, the lowest since Sept. 25, 2020.
The seven-day average of daily cases fell to 294.
The Ministry of Health also recorded the deaths of six more people with the illness, pushing the official toll to 9,099.
Public health units collectively administered another 225,188 doses of COVID-19 vaccines yesterday, the most-ever on a Wednesday and the second-most ever on a single day. More than 88 per cent of those shots were second doses.
This afternoon, Premier Doug Ford got his second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine at a pharmacy in Etobicoke.
Ontario has continued to offer second shots of AstraZeneca to those who received a first dose of that vaccine. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization has recommended that Canadians who got a first dose of AstraZeneca — nearly one million people in Ontario — opt instead for subsequent shot of an mRNA vaccine.
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In an email, a spokesperson for Ford's office said he looked forward to receiving a second shot of AstraZeneca, "which provides very good protection against COVID-19, including against severe illness and hospitalization."
The statement went on to say that all of the COVID-19 vaccines approved by Health Canada are safe and effective, and that the province encourages anyone who is eligible to get a first or second dose of a vaccine as soon as they are able.
With files from Adam Carter and The Canadian Press