Waterloo Region likely to move into Step 3 along with the province next Friday: Dr. Wang

Waterloo Region's top public health doctor says the area is on track to move into Step 3 of Ontario's reopening framework along with the rest of the province next Friday.

"That's the plan," medical officer of health Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang said during a weekly COVID-19 briefing. "The plan is to move along with the province going forward.

"We are not out of the woods yet, but we have a path to get there."

Friday morning, provincial officials announced Ontario would move into the third stage of its reopening plan on July 16 – five days ahead of schedule.

But Waterloo Region is the lone health unit jurisdiction across the province that has not yet even moved to Step 2.

Only yesterday did health officials in Waterloo Region announce the area would move into Step 2 on Monday.

Should Waterloo Region follow suit and enter Step 3 at the end of next week, there would be less than five days between Step 2 and Step 3.

"All of Ontario is opening on the 16th, but some regions that are current hot spots have the opportunity to hold their community back," Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario's chief medical officer of health, said Friday.

Provincial health officials had initially said the province would stay in each phase for a minimum of 21 days to monitor COVID-19 trends.

Step 3 will allow for a further loosing of COVID-19 restrictions. Indoor dining and fitness can resume, gathers inside can hold up to 25 people, and large indoor and outdoor events can begin again.

"Our indicators have stabilized since being designated a Delta hot spot," Dr. Wang said. "Going to Step 2 Monday, residents must continue to get vaccinated so that we don’t lose the gains we have made and slide backwards. We can't take our foot off of the gas."

She said health officials in Waterloo Region will continue to monitor COVID-19 indicators ahead of further reopening.

"We will continue to assess, but the plan is to continue to move forward," Dr. Wang said. "At this time, we are moving in the right direction."

Infection control epidemiologist Colin Furness doesn't think the move to Step 3 is wise.

"Step 3 is going to be foolish for everybody, not just Waterloo, and that's because Step 3 brings a return to large indoor gatherings," the University of Toronto professor said.

Furness said the highly transmissible Delta variant is still a threat.

"We are going to pay a heavier price in September, so the question is how much do you want to close in September," he said. "If the answer is you don't want to close things in September, then we shouldn't be doing what is a lot in stage three."

BUISNESSESS GET READY

At TheMuseum in Kitchener, staff are getting ready for visitors to be able to roam through the exihibits.

"We are ready to go," said CEO David Marskell. "We have had a number of plans in place for some time."

He adds that timed entry tickets will be available soon and a number of safety procedures are in place.

"It's like your family is coming back from Christmas dinner and everybody is cleaning, getting ready, getting the good china out," said Marskell. "That's exactly what we're doing, getting ready for our family to come back, our members to come back, the public."

At Guelph Family Martial Arts, Nathan Skoufis has been teaching classes online and outdoors, but is now able to operate at 50 per cent capacity inside come Friday.

"Getting in here makes it a little more predictable," he said. "We don't have to cancel beacuse of the rain today and go online."

James Rilett, the vice president of Restaurants Canada, says step three is a welcome expansion for an industry on the road to recovery.

"Now the hard work begins," he said. "They have to get ready to open and try and attack that debt they've gained."

Dan Kelly of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business agrees that there's lots to do still.

"By no means does this mean the recovery is here," he said. "Businesses have been hanging on by a thread."

With files from CTV Toronto and CTV Kitchener's Nicole Lampa and Krista Simpson.