Windsor-Essex moving to red zone as of Tuesday
Loosened restrictions follow two months of lockdown
The COVID-19 lockdown in Windsor-Essex is ending next week, the province announced Friday.
The region will enter the red "control" zone of restrictions on Tuesday at 12:01 a.m. and will no longer be subject to the stay-at-home order, officials said in a news release. And while businesses were excited to hear the news Friday, as it means they can reopen, in recent days health officials have warned that with a new variant around people need to remain all the more cautious.
Windsor Essex is one of 11 health regions moving to the red zone, along with Chatham-Kent. Meanwhile, Lambton County will move into the more lenient orange "restrict" zone.
"The health and safety of Ontarians remains our number one priority. While we are cautiously and gradually transitioning some regions out of shutdown, with the risk of new variants this is not a reopening or a return to normal," said Minister of Health Christine Elliott in a news release.
"Until vaccines are widely available, It remains critical that all individuals and families continue to adhere to public health measures and stay home as much as possible."
Red is the second strongest set of restrictions in the province's five-tier COVID-19 framework. It will mean significant changes to what's permitted, including a limited reopening of indoor dining.
The reduction in restrictions comes after two months in lockdown.
Dr. Wajid Ahmed, the medical officer of health for Windsor- Essex, said earlier on Friday that the region falls in the red zone criteria, as the most recent weekly case rate is about 46 per 100,000 people and the test positivity rate is 2. 6 per cent.
While Windsor-Essex is making continued progress against the spread of COVID-19, Ahmed cautioned that case counts are still higher than what they were in the peak of the first wave.
"I don't want people to get different messages," said Ahmed.
"We have to look at the reality as well, that this is what we're dealing with."
The province said that each region will stay in their designated zone for at least two weeks and then be reassessed to determine if it should stay in its current colour or move to a different zone.
Also, due to the confirmation of COVID-19 variants, the province said it is introducing an "emergency brake," which allows the provincial and local medical officers of health to advise moving a region back into lockdown should transmission increase.
This news comes after a variant was identified in Windsor-Essex and Chatham-Kent for the first time this week. Officials are still working to determine which of the coronavirus variants have arrived in the regions.
Businesses 'excited' to finally reopen
Owner of Salon 149 Kim Francis says she's "pretty excited" to return to the salon on Tuesday and welcome clients back.
"I think that we've always kept things nice and safe here. It'll be nice to have people come in and get their hair done and they all look pretty bad by the time they get in here," she said with a laugh.
The salon does have all updated safety protocols, Francis said, including spreading out the stations, logging clients and plastic barriers.
And not only are the people looking worse for wear, but their pets likely are too.
Manager of Loyal Companions Dog Grooming Nicole McMillan said the same thing but about the dogs.
By Friday morning, McMillan said it had already received about 25 calls from clients looking to get booking.
She said since the start of the lockdown her concern has been about the health of the animals they service, seeing as many didn't do well after the first lockdown.
"After the first wave when we were allowed to open again, we saw a lot of health issues that had arisen because of the lack of grooming and the ability to care for these animals," she said. "We are usually their first line of defence before veterinary care."
From sores and abscesses to overgrown nails, McMillan said the animals came in pretty dishevelled.
And the lockdown didn't only impact the animals, it impacted McMillan's livelihood.
"Since this is a family run business, it's hit us hard," she said. "It's definitely taken a toll on ourselves, mentally, physically, we want to be able to get back to normal."
The facility has also added in more safety measures, including stainless steel counters and cages that can be easily disinfected.
New variant means locals must remain cautious
Despite the reopening, Ahmed and other local health officials warn that residents should stay on top of public health measures and stay at home if they don't need to go out.
Chief of staff at Windsor Regional Hospital Dr. Wassim Saad spoke with CBC News ahead of the provincial announcement Friday in anticipation that restrictions would be loosening.
"We have to be very careful with the variant and with the opening up and track those numbers very closely and make adjustments on the fly if we need to," he said.