Ontario reveals details about restrictions when province exits Step 3

The Ontario government is providing the clearest picture so far of what restrictions will look like once the province exits its reopening roadmap plan following the lengthy COVID-19 lockdown and masks will remain a part of the landscape.

Ontario is currently in Step Three of the provincial reopening plan, which allows virtually all business places to operate with some capacity restrictions.

“Upon exiting the Roadmap, the vast majority of public health measures, including capacity limits, will be lifted. Only a small number of measures will remain in place, including the requirement for passive screening, such as posting a sign, and businesses requiring a safety plan,” a spokesperson for Health Minister Christine Elliott said Friday.

“As the Delta variant is the dominant strain in Ontario, which is not the case with some other provinces, face coverings will also continue to be required for indoor public settings.”

It’s been seven weeks since Ontario began the reopening process with Step One on June 11. The province entered Step Two a month ago on June 30 and Step Three two weeks ago on July 16.

The Ford government has said that Ontario will remain in Step Three for at least 21 days and until 80 per cent of those 12 and over have received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 75 per cent are fully vaccinated.

About 68.4 per cent of Ontarians 12 and up are now fully vaccinated, while 80.2 have had at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose.

The province has also stipulated that each public health unit must have at least 70 per cent of its eligible population aged 12 and over fully vaccinated – a milestone Toronto announced Friday that it has now reached – and that other key public health and health care indicators must remain stable.

NEXT STEP COULD COME ‘WITHIN A COUPLE OF WEEKS’

No specific date has been set for when the province will exit step three, though Premier Doug Ford told reporters Friday that while he won’t commit to a date, it could happen by around mid-August.

“Whenever we hit those main targets, and we'll hit them, honestly probably in a couple of weeks maybe sooner,” Ford said. “But we just have to get those vaccinations, out there and hit our 75 per cent target.”

While there is no hard date, Elliot's office said Friday that it is sharing more details about what the exit step will look like “to provide clarity to businesses and the people of Ontario in advance of exiting the Roadmap.”

At the exit step, capacity limits will be lifted for all sectors, as well as for social gatherings and public events.

Restaurants will still have to maintain distance of two metres between patrons, or separate them with a barrier such as plexiglass and collect names and contact information for patrons.

Masks will also still have to be worn in workplaces where physical distancing cannot be maintained.

SOME JURISDICTIONS DROPPING MASKS WHILE OTHERS BRING THEM BACK

The decision to keep masking in place comes as some jurisdictions, such as Alberta, move to do away with some key measures.

Alberta announced Wednesday that it is dropping its mask mandate, along with almost all of its pandemic restrictions. Those who test positive for COVID-19 will no longer have to isolate, nor will close contacts be notified.

Asked earlier Friday about whether Ontario might follow suit, Ford told reporters Ontario will continue on course with masks for the time being.

“That's up to Premier Kenny to decide,” Ford said, commenting on Alberta’s move. “We're gonna stay vigilant here. We're gonna make sure that we continue with the masks and what's going to get us out of this is one thing; it’s vaccinations. Simple as that, we need to continue hitting our target.”

Some infectious disease specialists have called Alberta’s plan “risky” and have said that a fourth wave in the fall is likely, especially given the dominance of the more infectious Delta variant.

“What they're doing in Alberta, a lot of it makes sense, it's just that it's way too early to do that,” infectious disease specialist Dr. Alon Vaisman told CP24. “It's something that we would probably be doing a little bit down the road, but given where they're at now – the case counts rising – it's very early to be withdrawing those kind of restrictions in the era of the Delta variant.”

The Ministry of Health said that the requirement to continue masking indoors “is consistent with other jurisdictions” such as Quebec and Israel and also is in line with recently updated guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control that fully vaccinated people begin wearing masks indoors again in locations with high COVID-19 transmission rates.

While many jurisdictions in the U.S. had done away with masking, cases have begun to surge in many areas, prompting the CDC to reverse course on its advice.

Exceptions to Ontario’s masking requirements will remain in place for medical conditions, children younger than two years old and other special circumstances, though people will not have to provide proof.

Ontario reported 226 cases of COVID-19 on Friday, along with 11 more deaths. The province’s rolling seven-day average also increased for the third consecutive week, reaching 170.