Next step — ‘long-term recovery’ phase — on more distant horizon
EASTERN ONTARIO — Yellow tape will come down from children’s play structures, dine-in restaurants and theatres will reopen and indoor and outdoor gathering limits will respectively rise to a maximum of 50 and 100 people as a number of pandemic rules are eased at the end of this week. Those will be among the more obvious indicators of the region’s July 17 entry into the third and final stage of the current “restart phase” — with significant restrictions remaining on social distancing, building capacity and indoor masks.
Eastern Ontario and much of the province outside of the Toronto, Hamilton and Windsor areas will embark on Stage 3 at 12:01 a.m. on Friday. Still on the distant horizon is the province’s so-called “recovery phase,” next step beyond the current one, which won’t happen until there’s a vaccine or a “perfect medication” against COVID-19, said Eastern Ontario Medical Officer of Health Dr. Paul Roumeliotis during today’s media briefing.
“We’re in this stage  here for a while … going well into the fall, well into the winter,” observed Roumeliotis.
“We expect the province to stay in Stage 3 for the foreseeable future,” predicted Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott during the provincial cabinet’s daily update on the pandemic.
An individual’s personal circle of people remains at 10 with the change of stage, “but I have a feeling this is going to increase over the next couple of days,” Dr. Roumeliotis said.
Meanwhile, the actual capacity of a newly reopened dining room or performance venue depends on available space to accommodate social distancing: The maximum of 50 applies only if adequate room exists. Indoor establishments with “performers” will not have to count those individuals or crew members towards their capacity.
And for the first time in months, singers may serenade live indoor audiences — but must remain behind a sneeze guard on stage. “Dancers” who are paid employees will be permitted to strut their stuff again. Dancing by patrons, however, won’t be allowed.
Churches and places of worship are still held to gatherings of no more than 30 percent of their seating capacity (which could exceed 50 in some cases).
Gyms and fitness centres, as well as municipal recreational centres and arenas, will also reopen, again subject to the maximum allowable numbers and physical distancing. The sports played in arenas won’t be the same, with leagues limited to 50 individuals that play each other as a “cohort,” according to the doctor.
However, martial arts clubs won’t be allowed to reopen nor will water parks, amusement parks and indoor karaoke bars, under Stage 3 at this point.
Still, the province touts this Friday’s shift as the reopening of “nearly all businesses and public spaces.”
“Our success in reducing the spread of COVID-19 and getting Ontario to a place where we are ready to reopen most of the province is a testament to the hard work of business owners, individuals and families right across the province,” declared Premier Doug Ford. “So many have stepped up and played by the rules, demonstrating that we can restart our economy safely and responsibly. Small actions can make a big difference. Now more than ever, we must continue to follow the public health advice to preserve the progress we have made together.”
Minister Elliott asked that residents stay the course of washing hands, physical distancing, wearing masks and maintaining safe social circles as “critical” to the effort of controlling spread of the virus. “So that we can continue to safely enjoy the loosening of restrictions.”
“We must all work together to stop the spread of COVID-19,” similarly said local MPP Jim McDonell.
Elliott said the rules would be gradually eased further during the current stage if all goes well, pending regular review by Ontario Chief Medical Officer and public health experts.
Continuing on a general downward trend, Ontario recorded 116 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday — down 10 percent from a day earlier — and three deaths. To date, the province has seen 36,839 cases, with 32,663 resolved and 2,722 deaths. Twenty-eight individuals are in hospital with the virus, 20 of them on ventilators.
The Eastern Ontario Health Unit — one of 24 health units proceeding to Stage 3 — hadn’t seen a new case in several days until a single positive test popped up July 11th within Prescott and Russell counties. One hundred and sixty-seven people have been infected within the EOHU area since the start of the pandemic, with 11 deaths at one nursing home.
Only two people from the EOHU’s area of jurisdiction are currently in hospital with the sickness, neither of them on a ventilator.
“We can manage the caseload very well at this point,” said Dr. Roumeliotis.