Most restrictions will lift after Step 3: Simcoe Muskoka health expert voices his concerns

One health expert in Simcoe Muskoka is voicing his concerns as the Ontario government announces its plan for exiting Step 3 of its reopening.

The news comes as Simcoe Muskoka's health unit reports a slight uptick in COVID-19 cases, which Dr. Barry Nathanson said is not surprising.

"This is entirely predictable," said the Stevenson Memorial Hospital's chief of staff on Thursday. "This is a natural consequence of the loosening of restrictions that we have been living under for many, many months."

Nathanson, a critical care specialist, said the region would see "more transmission of the virus" as the province eases restrictions.

Step 3 came with fewer capacity limitations, more business reopening, and more gatherings permitted.

There is no step 4, according to officials. Exiting the third phase would mean a return to an 'almost' normal for residents and businesses.

On Friday, Ontario officials said most public health measures in place would be lifted when Step 3 comes to an end, except for passive screening, signage and safety plans for businesses.

Health Minister Christine Elliott added that wearing face masks indoors would remain essential "as the Delta variant is the dominant strain in Ontario, which is not the case with some other provinces."

The province initially said the third phase would last for at least 21 days and until 80 per cent of those 12 and older received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Currently, 69 per cent of eligible Simcoe Muskoka residents have rolled up their sleeves for their first dose. The health unit reports that 56 per cent are fully vaccinated.

Nathanson reiterated the need for residents to get a COVID-19 vaccine to protect themselves and others, saying there is "reasonable cause for fear" of a fourth wave.

He pointed to the situation in hospitals and critical care units over the past year and a half. "We've seen a great deal of avoidable death and suffering," he added. "A logical approach to the balance of the risks and benefits of either being vaccinated or not would naturally lead, objectively, to the decision to be vaccinated."

The province did not offer a specific date for when Step 3 would end, but Premier Doug Ford said it could happen by mid-August.