Waterloo Region's top doctor urges caution ahead of reopening next week

Waterloo Region’s medical officer of health is urging residents to remain cautious as Ontario loosens some restrictions next week.

Starting Monday, indoor gathering sizes will increase to 10 people. Outdoor gatherings will be capped at 25 people. Businesses like gyms and restaurants will also be able to reopen at 50 per cent capacity.

“Reopening cautiously in a step-wise manner will help protect our health-care system, help keep our schools open and help us move forward,” Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang said at the region’s weekly COVID-19 update on Friday.

She said residents should continue to limit their social contacts where possible, wear a well-fitting mask when gathering with people outside of their household and avoid crowding, poorly ventilated spaces.

“We need to continue our efforts to blunt the severity of the Omicron wave so the province can safely and gradually reopen,” Dr. Wang said. “We are getting through this together and will get through this together.”

VACCINATION PREVENTED ‘MUCH WORSE’ OMICRON WAVE

Dr. Wang and Dr. Sharon Bal, primary physician lead for the region's vaccine task force, both said high vaccination rates in Waterloo Region have helped prevent a “much worse” Omicron wave.

“I am very grateful to our community for stepping up and getting their dose,” Dr. Wang said.

Dr. Bal said the impact of those high vaccination rates “cannot be overemphasized.”

“We never would have been able to withstand the assault of something like Omicron previously,” she said.

Dr. Wang added that while it is difficult to predict the future of this pandemic, the situation will likely improve in March after a “tough February.”

Hospitals are still dealing with capacity issues and staff unable to come into work due to COVID-19.

WASTEWATER SIGNAL SHOWING DECLINE

While wastewater signals remain high at the region’s testing sites in Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge, Dr. Wang said there are signs of decline.

She added the signal continues to be dominated by the Omicron variant.

The region’s test positivity rate is also dropping, with a seven-day average now around 18 per cent.

Outbreaks in high-risk settings remain high but stable, according to Dr. Wang.

VACCINATION UPDATE

Vaccine clinics operated by Waterloo Region will offer walk-ins for all doses and all ages starting Monday. Appointments will also still be available online.

The region’s vaccine lead, Vickie Murray, said 53.22 per cent of children between the ages of five and 11 have received a first COVID-19 vaccine dose.

Murray estimates around 62 per cent of all eligible residents have now received a booster shot, with third dose rates above 85 per cent for the 70 to 79 and 80+ age groups.

An increase in Pfizer supply means people aged 30 and older can now request a Pfizer shot for their third dose, although Murray said they will continue to routinely administer Moderna to that age group. Residents are encouraged to take the first vaccine available to them.