Renfrew County was set to move into 'Orange-Restrict' zone prior to government shutdown plans

UPDATE: Ontario Premier Doug Ford will announce a month-long provincewide shutdown on Thursday, sources tell CTV News. This means Renfrew County won't be going into 'Orange-Restrict,' but will be subject to the same shutdown rules as the rest of the province.

After being considered one of the safer health units in the province in terms of COVID-19 transmission, Renfrew County looks set to move into the Orange-Restrict zone for the first time in the coming days.

"I think it’s pretty much certain that we’re going to go there," says Dr. Robert Cushman, the region’s Acting Medical Officer of Health. "If you look at our numbers last week they were orange."

As of Wednesday, the county was reporting 34 active cases of COVID-19. Dr. Cushman admits case numbers to start this week looked better than the previous week, but isn’t prepared to make a judgement on only a couple days worth of data.

"I’ve never been this concerned actually," says Dr. Cushman.

Renfrew County’s top doctor says there are many factors compounding his worries, including 14 positive variant cases and the proximity the Ottawa; a health unit that is showing signs of turning into a Grey-Lockdown zone.

"Because we’re contiguous and what happens there comes so soon to us, it’s really wise to go into orange."

The biggest change in the move from the yellow zone to the orange zone is the difference at restaurants. In yellow, restaurants have no capacity limits on indoor dining, as long as customers are seated at least two metres apart. Under Orange, the indoor dining capacity limit changes to 50 per cent to a maximum of 100 people.

Limits on social gatherings stay the same when changing from yellow to orange. Ten people are allowed to gather indoors, masked and distanced. Twenty-five people are allowed to gather outdoors. But it is the social gatherings that has Dr. Cushman worried the most ahead of the Easter long weekend.

"I can’t stress enough that we’ve got to get through this weekend," says Cushman, who admits he lobbied for the county to move to the red zone ahead of the holiday.

"We have to be very careful because we could be going into red or grey in 10 days time."

The seemingly imminent move to orange doesn’t surprise Renfrew County Paramedic Chief Mike Nolan, whose team does a majority of the COVID swabbing in the area.

"The numbers of people showing up at swabbing clinics has really exploded over the past week or so," says Nolan. "The days and weeks to come I think should be of concern to all of us knowing that the variant is here in Renfrew County."

Nolan agrees that the Easter long weekend poses a threat to the county, especially with visitors leaving more restricted areas for social gatherings.

"People are thinking of being with family members, wanting to be outside, and maybe have a backyard get together, as seemingly innocuous as that seems," says Nolan.

"You have to really consider what you’re bringing with you when you’re living in a community that has not only community spread, but also a greater likelihood of you being a transmitter of COVID."