A year of pandemic: Here's what's changed in Waterloo Region since the first case of COVID-19

One year has passed since Region of Waterloo Public Health reported the first case of COVID-19.

Officials said the woman, who was in her 50s, started experiencing mild symptoms on March 1, 2020. She returned to the area from Italy on March 3, 2020 and used private transportation to travel from Toronto's Pearson International Airport to Grand River Hospital. She was discharged on March 4.

Since that first case a year ago, nearly 11,000 people in the region have tested positive for the disease.

Students were sent home, businesses closed their doors and people wore masks to protect themselves and others from the spread of the disease.

Here's a look at what's changed in the region since that first case a year ago.

CASES, RECOVERIES, DEATHS

The first case of COVID-19 in Waterloo Region was reported on March 3, 2020. On March 12, 2020, officials reported the second and third cases of the disease.

Forty-one-year-old John Tsai died from COVID-19 complications on March 31, 2020. His was the first reported death in the region. He was remembered as a community leader with a passion for music.

"I loved him very much and I'm so sad that I wasn't able to hug him, tell him how much I loved him, and that I would cherish our time together and to say a final goodbye," John's brother, Steven Tsai, said at the time.

The region's second death was reported a day later.

Since those early cases and deaths, there have been more than 10,700 lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Waterloo Region, along with 228 deaths and more than 10,000 recoveries.

The region reported its first variant of concern on Jan. 29. It was identified as the variant first found in the U.K., also known as B.1.1.7.

Now, there are 10 confirmed cases of B.1.1.7. in Waterloo Region. There are also 105 cases that screened positive for a variant of concern, but the specific variant hasn't been identified.

Ontario identified its first presumptive positive case of COVID-19 on Jan. 25, 2020 after a man in his 50s returned to Toronto from Wuhan, China. It was also the first case in Canada.

Ontario has reported more than 300,000 lab-confirmed cases of the disease to date.

TESTING

Regional hospitals opened temporary COVID-19 testing clinics on March 10, 2020.

Testing capacity would increase steadily in the region through the spring and into the summer.

Grand River Hospital's first-come, first-serve testing site opened on Glasgow Street on June 13, 2020.

Testing demand increased dramatically in September as students returned to school. Testing sites in Waterloo Region reported long lines, with some being fully booked before they even opened.

The drive-thru testing site would eventually move to a booking system. Frustration boiled over after people began lining up as early as 3 a.m., only to find that the site's testing capacity had been filled.

The final day of drive-up testing ended early in September after staff were faced with threats of violence, prompting the Waterloo Regional Police Service to respond. The site then operated by appointment only.

The province updated its testing guidelines on Sept. 24, 2020, saying it would only be available to people with COVID-19 symptoms or anyone who was directed to get a test because of an exposure to the disease.

Select pharmacies opened for asymptomatic COVID-19 testing later that month.

Kitchener's drive-thru site moved to Charles Street West in the former bus terminal on Dec. 4, 2020. The new location is winterized and has a larger testing capacity.

Cambridge Memorial Hospital opened a drive-thru testing site in January 2021.

Testing is still by appointment only at Waterloo Region assessment centres. Most offer same-day appointments when demand allows and those can be booked online.

The region also opened some pop-up testing centres in February for communities where people might have difficulty accessing testing centres.

VACCINES

Health Canada approved the first COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer-BioNtech on Dec. 9, 2020. The first Canadian doses were administered on Dec. 14, 2020.

Siham Ibrahim, a staff member at a long-term care home in Elmira, received the first dose in the region on Dec. 22.

Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine was approved on Dec. 23.

Vaccine clinics paused briefly over the holidays, but resumed in late December.

A third vaccine from AstraZeneca received Health Canada approval on Feb. 26, 2021.

The region launched mobile clinics at retirement and long-term care homes in early 2021. Eligible residents at those homes had all received their first doses by Jan. 21, 2021.

Supply issues shut down clinics in the region in late January and early February, but officials said they were able to start administering the vaccine again as more doses arrived.

The province has expanded Phase One of vaccine rollout to include adults over the age of 80. Health-care workers have also been divided into highest, very high, high and medium priority categories.

Officials will continue to update the public on when they can expect to receive their vaccine.

Pre-registration for priority groups opened in the region on Feb. 24.

Adults over the age of 80 started receiving their COVID-19 vaccines in late February. Mass vaccination clinics are expected to open to priority groups in early March.

To date, there have been 33,206 doses administered in the region, and 13,116 people are fully vaccinated.

BUSINESSES CLOSE, THEN OPEN AGAIN WITH LIMITS

Two weeks after Waterloo Region's first case of COVID-19, Premier Doug Ford declared a state of emergency and closed theatres, cinemas, child-care settings, private schools and in-person dining. Businesses in the area closed their doors as people were told to stay home to stop the spread of the disease.

The region moved into Stage 2 of the province's reopening plan on June 12, 2020, meaning patios could open for business again. Hair salons could also welcome back clients.

The region moved into Stage 3 in mid-July, meaning restaurants could offer indoor dining as well. Gyms and other businesses were also allowed to reopen, as long as they followed public health rules.

Ontario released an updated tiered COVID-19 restriction plan on Nov. 3, 2020. The draft initially placed Waterloo Region in the green "prevent" tier, but it would move into the yellow "protect" tier instead due to case counts and other indicators.

As the number of new cases continued to rise, the province announced Waterloo Region was moving into the orange tier later that month.

By the end of November, the region was in the red tier, which is the highest tier before a lockdown. Gyms and restaurants can only allow 10 people inside. Retail stores also need to operate under strict capacity limits.

Ontario moved into a province-wide lockdown on Dec. 26, 2020, closing non-essential businesses across the province. Officials issued a stay-at-home order in early 2021 that stayed in effect until Feb. 16 in the region.

The region is now back in the red tier.

STUDENTS MOVE TO VIRTUAL CLASSROOMS AND BACK AGAIN

The provincial government announced on March 12, 2020, that students wouldn't return to the classroom for two weeks after March break.

That pause would actually last until September, when students in Waterloo Region were welcomed back into the classroom.

The first local students headed back to school on Sept. 8, 2020. School boards took a cautious approach to reopening, staggering starts to allow for proper physical distancing.

The public school board reported its first COVID-19 case before classes even started, saying a staff member at Edna Staebler Public School had tested positive on Sept. 7, 2020.

On Sept. 16, 2020, the first student in the region tested positive for the disease. A kindergarten class at St. Anne Catholic Elementary School needed to self-isolate as a result.

Officials declared an outbreak at Kitchener-Waterloo Collegiate and Vocational School on Sept. 25, 2020. It was the first school outbreak in the region.

As cases continued to climb in the community during the second wave, the Ministry of Education decided to continue distance learning in the new year.

Schools reopened to students on Feb. 8. They remain open, with physical distancing and masking measures in place.

March break was delayed to the week of April 12.

MASKS MANDATORY IN INDOOR PUBLIC SPACES

Most health officials didn't recommend mask use at the start of the pandemic last spring, largely because the world was in short supply. However, they have since become mandatory in all indoor public spaces in Waterloo Region, including in businesses, on public transit vehicles and in shelters, in taxis and ridesharing vehicles, and in common spaces at apartment buildings and condos.

By June, local officials recommended wearing masks. However, they weren't mandatory at that point. They raised concerns about enforcement if mask use was mandated by municipal bylaw.

The following month, regional councillors voted unanimously in-favour of a mandatory mask bylaw on July 6, 2020. It came into effect on July 13, 2020, and was renewed in September.

"The goal is to increase the percentage of those who can to wear masks to decrease a chance of that resurgence,” said Cambridge Mayor Kathryn McGarry at the time.

Masks will be mandatory in indoor spaces in Waterloo Region until at least May 31.

Students need to wear masks inside the classroom and outside if physical distancing isn't possible. Some health experts recommend wearing masks outdoors if it's not possible to stay two metres from others.

Public health officials across the country now recommend wearing three-layer masks, medical masks or even doubling up on masks as new, more transmissible variants of concern spread.

What was the last thing you remember doing before the pandemic shut down the province? Let us know by emailing news@kitchener.ctv.ca.

Edited by CTVNewsKitchener.ca Digital Content Producer Chase Banger