'This path will get us to the patios and beaches': Following health measures will allow for better summer in Waterloo Region, officials say

Officials in Waterloo Region continue to encourage residents to follow all public health guidelines to ensure things can reopen gradually this summer.

"We have seen great progress in our fight against COVID-19 in the Region of Waterloo," Chair Karen Redman said at the weekly COVID-19 briefing on Friday. "We must also continue to follow public health measures so that we can continue down this path. This path will get us to the patios and the beaches this summer and eventually to a place where we can physically embrace each other without fear."

Medical Officer of Health Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang said the region's weekly incidence rate now sits at 45 cases per 100,000 people. The province's rate has dropped to 40 cases per 100,000 people.

She also said there has been a slight uptick in new cases in the past couple of days, which may be the result of the May long weekend.

"We are approaching similar rates to where we were before the province implemented a province-wide shutdown, which is still in effect," Dr. Wang said. "Things can change quickly if we relax measures too soon."

The stay-at-home order lifted this past Wednesday, but Dr. Wang said people are still encouraged to stay home as much as possible and limit contact with people outside of their households.

Outdoor gatherings of up to five people are allowed, and residents are encouraged to wear masks and stay two metres away from people they don't live with.

RISK OF VARIANTS

Dr. Wang said the Delta variant, also known as the B.1.617 variant first identified in India, has started to spread in Waterloo Region.

She said this new variant is more transmissible than the B.1.1.7, or Alpha, variant that is now the dominant strain in the region. The Alpha variant resulted in the third wave in Ontario, according to Dr. Wang.

"We still have to be very, very cautious to minimize the level of community spread in general, because that will minimize, or at least slow, the spread of the Delta variant in terms of whether it could lead to a fourth wave or not," she said.

With warm weather on the horizon, officials continued to encourage people to keep gatherings small and outdoors.

"Whether it's a long weekend or warmer weather approaching, the same advice applies," CAO Bruce Lauckner said. "I hope that people continue to follow the rules. (There's) nothing wrong with getting outside, but I would be concerned, especially with the combination of the Delta variant coming and the warm weather, that that's a recipe for leading to a fourth wave if we aren't cautious."

VACCINATION UPDATE

Dept. Chief Shirley Hilton, who leads the region's vaccination task force, said accelerated second dose appointments are now available to people over the age of 80 and some health-care workers. Expanded eligibility to people 70 and older will open on Monday.

Hilton said the region is also working on a new second dose booking system that they hope to launch next week. Currently, people need to fill out a form to apply for a quicker second dose appointment.

Pre-registration is open for anyone aged 12 and older in the region and Hilton said they send out about 8,000 appointment invitations each day. The task force hopes to have invitations sent out to pre-registered individuals by early next week.

Children aged 12 to 17 are eligible for a shortened second dose interval in order to have all students vaccinated before they return to school in the fall. Dr. Wang said that eligibility will expand to people 12 to 25 to allow for post-secondary students to get vaccines.

Waterloo Region has administered more than 330,000 doses so far and 65 per cent of people over the age of 18 have received at least one dose.

Officials said they're vaccinating between 5,000 and 6,000 people each day.