Waterloo Region moving into Step 2 on Monday

Waterloo Region will move into Step 2 of Ontario's reopening framework on Monday.

Public health officials made the announcement Thursday morning, citing positive COVID-19 trends and high vaccination rates as contributing factors in allowing the move.

"We are seeing signs of stabilizations or slow improvement in our (COVID-19) indicators, such as case rates, hospitalizations and outbreaks," medical officer of health Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang said at a press conference. "We have also seen, more importantly, our vaccination rates ramp up significantly since being designated a Delta hot spot."

Waterloo Region was the lone public health area across the province held back from entering Step 2. The rest of Ontario entered Step 2 – which allowed for things like personal care services to resume and malls to reopen – on June 30.

Since being designated a Delta variant hotspot in early June, the region's vaccination rates have rapidly increased, going from 58.6 per cent of adults with one dose to 79.8 per cent. There's also been a massive increase in the number of adults fully vaccinated, rising from 6.3 per cent to 45 per cent.

"We need to continue to build on our momentum," Dr. Wang said.

Under Step 2, hair salons and malls can reopen, patio seating increases, outdoor gatherings of up to 25 people are permitted and outdoor sports leagues can resume, among a host of other loosened restrictions.

But despite the move to Step 2, Dr. Wang said Waterloo Region remains in a "precarious" position because of the Delta variant. She's urging residents to continue following public health safety measures, including physical distancing, wearing a mask and getting tested.

"We need to remain very cautious and we need to continue to push back against Delta," she said. "This will help Waterloo Region remain on track to move in unison with the rest of the province into Step 3."

Provincial health officials have not yet said when Ontario will move into Step 3 of its reopening framework. The initial plan called for the province to stay in each step for a minimum of 21 days to monitor COVID-19 trends.

Yesterday, Health Minister Christine Elliott said pinpointing an exact date is difficult because of the looming threat of the Delta variant.

"We have seen our vaccine numbers dramatically increase over the past number of weeks," Regional Chair Karen Redman said at the announcement. "Our sights are now fully focused on entering Step 3 in line with the province."

Dr. Wang said Waterloo Region is now ahead of the province in terms of first doses and youth vaccinations, adding there's still demand for first jabs in the community.

Thursday, Ontario announced 50 per cent of adults had now received two doses.

Waterloo Region plans to continue its vaccine push as a new 'Hockey Hub' mass vaccination clinic opened at Bingemans Thursday. The site will be fully operational by this weekend, and staff plan to administer 20,000 doses through Saturday and Sunday as part of the "Every Dose Counts" campaign.

Even with strong vaccination numbers, Dr. Wang stressed other factors, including the spread of the Delta variant, have to be considered before moving to Step 3.

"The cautious approach that we're taking in Ontario will allow us to continue to reopen progressively and, again, not have surges such that we'd have to take a step back. Its (vaccination rates) only one component of what is required for Waterloo Region and Ontario to keep moving forward," she said. "We're on our way, we just need to keep up our momentum."

A full list of what can reopen on Monday is available here.