'So good being back': Ontario sees 184 new COVID-19 cases as province enters Step 2 of reopening
Vaccination targets for Step 3 met, but top doctor warns delta variant still a concern
Ontario is reporting 184 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday — the lowest daily case count since mid-September — as the province moves into Step 2 of its reopening plan.
The new numbers come as the province slowly rolls back COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, with more outdoor activities and indoor services like haircuts resuming as part of the second stage.
Outdoor concerts, theatres, water parks, fairs, festivals and amusement parks are also allowed to reopen, with up to 25 per cent capacity.
Meanwhile, essential retail stores can open to 50 per cent capacity. For a full list of what's allowed, click here.
'Ready to get back into the world safely'
The loosening of restrictions marks a welcome change for many residents across the province, who have already started taking advantage of newly-opened services.
When Daksha Pater's nail salon — Nice One Nails — called her to say they were reopening, she jumped at the chance.
"She called me saying 'When do you want to come?'" said Pater, a Toronto health-care worker.
"I said, 'First appointment — I'll be there.'"
Like Pater, Marla Cosburn was able to once again return to her salon after seven months, taking the first appointment she could get.
"It's great — so good being back here. [I'm] double-vaxxed and ready to get back into the world safely," she told CBC News during her appointment on Wednesday morning.
While some are rushing out to get manicures, Peter Kalamaris has already started welcoming customers back to his Weston barber shop.
"It's a great day to be back cutting hair, it's been a long time waiting for this to happen," he told CBC's Metro Morning host Ismaila Alfa on Wednesday.
Kalamaris's family has owned World Famous Peter's Barber Shop for more than 60 years. Like many, the pandemic has been challenging for his business.
Kalamaris was able to reopen his shop briefly earlier this year and then had to close down shortly after. While closing was hard, he's trying to stay positive about the months ahead.
Indoor fitness classes should be allowed, gym owner says
Like Kalamaris, Bomb Fitness owner Victoria Wickett says the pandemic has been a roller coaster.
After more than a year, studios across Ontario are once again allowed to offer fitness classes, but they must be held outdoors with at least three metres of distance between people.
Indoor fitness classes aren't allowed until the province enters Step 3 of the reopening plan.
Wickett says studios could "definitely do indoor fitness classes in a safe way." Instead, classes at Bomb Fitness's Toronto location will be held in a laneway behind the studio, where Wickett says people will have to contend with the smell of garbage and the occasional dead rat.
While she is still happy to resume in-person classes, she says owners should have been given more trust from the province about how operate safely indoors.
"The reality is I know my space ... we have been sitting through this for the last 16 months trying to plan, to make things as comfortable as possible for our members," she said.
New high for vaccinations, delta variant still a concern
Today's change comes as health units across Ontario collectively administered 268,397 doses of vaccines yesterday — a new high for the second straight day.
The province also recorded 14 new deaths on Wednesday, bringing the official death count to 9,168.
More than 77.5 per cent of people had at least one vaccine dose as of Wednesday morning, and 37 per cent were fully vaccinated. According to the province's own indicators, these vaccination rates meet targets set for Step 3 of reopening.
But the province's new top doctor said Tuesday he'd prefer to wait a full 21 days before rolling back restrictions further.
WATCH | Delta variant remains a concern as Ontario enters Step 2, says Dr. Moore:
"The two-to-three-week cycle is very important to maintain so that we do the opening of Ontario in a stepwise manner, always going forward and not having to take a step back," Dr. Kieran Moore said at his first pandemic briefing since he officially took on the job as Ontario's chief medical officer of health.
Waterloo Regions remains in Step 1
The province set 21 days between each step of its economic reopening to observe public health trends and allow vaccines to take full effect.
It moved up the second step of the plan by a few days based on vaccination rates and other positive COVID-19 trends.
Ontario has passed the goal set for entering the third step of the reopening plan, which would further expand capacity for indoor gatherings.
But Moore, like his predecessor Dr. David Williams, maintained on Tuesday that vaccination isn't the only metric for reopening. He advised proceeding with caution with the more infectious delta variant spreading.
To date, the province has reported 1,909 cases of the delta variant. Those with one vaccine dose are less protected against that variant and that has contributed to local infection spikes in Grey Bruce and Waterloo Region.
Moore said he's watching the variant's impact locally and internationally and that reopening must be done cautiously to avoid losing progress made in the fight against the virus so far.
"It is a difficult adversary. It's aggressive, it wants to spread rapidly," he said of the variant.
Waterloo Region isn't reopening with the rest of the province today as it manages the rise in infections. Moore said travel from Waterloo into other areas with looser public health rules is discouraged.
27,258 tests completed
Today's case count a new low since Sept. 10, 2020, when 170 cases were reported.
The new cases come following 27,258 tests completed since the previous update. Public Health Ontario logged a test positivity rate of one per cent — the lowest that figure has been in months.
Toronto reported just 17 new cases on Wednesday, the lowest case count the city has seen since August 16, 2020. There were also 46 new cases in the Region of Waterloo, 19 in Grey Bruce, 17 in Hamilton and 16 in Peel Region.
The province's seven-day average currently sits at 255.
The province has used 14,741,138 it has received to date. As of Wednesday, 4,808,170 Ontarians were fully vaccinated, with 9,932,938 people having received at least one dose.
As of yesterday, 271 people were being treated for COVID-related illnesses in intensive care units. Some 181 of those patients were on ventilators.
Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott says Thursday's COVID-19 data will be posted on Friday due to Canada Day.
With files from Julia Knope, Linda Ward, Meagan Fitzpatrick and The Canadian Press