Stay-at-home order ends for Simcoe Muskoka and province as Ford hints at early reopening

The stay-at-home order lifted Wednesday, leaving Simcoe Muskoka in a state of limbo until the province enters Step 1 of its reopening plan as many restrictions on businesses and gatherings remain in place.

The province said the first stage of reopening would happen around mid-June, but during a press conference Wednesday, Premier Doug Ford suggested Ontario might be able to move the timeline up.

"I'm so hopeful that as things are going, we may be able to enter Step 1 safely earlier than June the 14," Ford said.

The premier said he's waiting for Ontario's top doctor about whether the province could shift into Step 1.

What Simcoe Muskoka needs to know about the stay-at-home order ending

With COVID-19 infection rates declining, Simcoe Muskoka's medical officer of health said Tuesday, "we're making excellent progress and need to continue."

Dr. Charles Gardner advised residents to stay the course and remain diligent about safety measures, even as restrictions ease, noting concerns surrounding COVID-19 variants, saying the virus would "continue to change and mutate and form new variants."

On Wednesday, the Simcoe Muskoka health unit reported 23 new COVID-19 cases, plus one new virus-related death.

The health unit said a Simcoe County woman between the ages of 65 and 79 passed away after contracting the virus. She becomes the region's 246th COVID-19 death.

According to Gardner, there has been one virus-related death every week since November 2020.

"COVID will likely never cease to exist," Gardner said, adding residents should get the vaccine before the fall when cooler temperatures could ramp up infections once again.

The health unit says 54 per cent of Simcoe Muskoka residents have received their first vaccine, while 6.5 per cent have received both shots.

Ford said the province was on pace to fully vaccinate everyone who wants both doses before the end of the summer.

Meanwhile, the province did not indicate when a decision would be made on a reopening date.