Ford now open to regional approach of reopening economy

He says it will be considered before the province enters Stage 2

Ontario Premier Doug Ford now says he's comfortable with looking at a regional approach to reopening the economy as has happened in other provinces, a change in policy due to testing numbers and new guidelines. 

"This will be one option we consider as we move into Stage 2, this is one option we're putting on the table and we're only able to do this now because we're getting our testing to where we need it," he said, adding the provincial health table is examining how it could work. 

On Monday, Ford said the idea didn't make sense because people in Toronto would go into rural areas, reiterating the concern Thursday. 

"They'll be half a million cottagers going up to the Muskokas, the Haliburtons," he said the day before. 

But after health officials released a new short-term testing guideline, Ford said it's a fluid situation and he trusts the advice of his experts. 

"There's never a lightbulb that goes off in my head, I take the advice, it's about a team approach, people working together," he said. 

Friday's testing announcement unveiled a plan to expand testing to groups beyond front-line health care workers, including testing in areas like jails and shelters starting next week. 

Testing will also begin in "High COVID Active Communities," with COVID-19 Testing Approach executive lead Dr. Dirk Huyser saying it will involve teams working with local public health units to identify areas and workplaces in a particular region that need testing done. 

"Something like a van or a bus coming, work together in a collaborative way with contribution from the workplace or the setting and involvement of the public health unit to do that testing," he said. 

Officials are also preparing to test workers in sectors outside the front lines, involving everyone from education to media. 

However, these groups, identified in gray in the graph below, have not been given a timeframe for testing, but officials are working on a four-week calendar. 

Huyser said the health table is also working on logistics for testing sectors such as truckers, an area where Ford recently said he wanted to see happen, as well as criteria for students and children in daycare. 

However, neither the officials nor Ford put a number on where testing capacity would have to increase in order to accommodate all of the groups. 

Thursday saw 18,525 tests conducted, another reason why Ford was comfortable in looking at a regional approach. 

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams said there are still many questions to consider, including how one region may be able to open, whereas the one adjacent to it could not and how the public would understand the rules. 

"These are all very good questions and ones we're going to have to look at," he said. 

On Thursday, Health Minister Christine Elliott said the province was still at least a week away until considering Stage 2 of the reopening framework. 

Today, she said the possibility of a regional approach is a separate from criteria used to open any area. 

"That's going to be based on the number of new cases, the hospital capacity, the contact tracing and all of those things have to come together," she said. "I know that people are very anxious to get back to business, but public health has to be the number one concern."