Toronto and Peel Region will move into Stage 3 of Ontario’s COVID-19 recovery plan this Friday, the provincial government said this morning.
Windsor-Essex, the only other area of the province that is still in Stage 2, will not be permitted to proceed to the next phase at this point.
Stage 3 allows for activities such as indoor dining in restaurants, live performing arts shows and the reopening of movie theatres and playgrounds.
It also permits larger gatherings of people, though social distancing requirements remain in place.
In a news release, the Ontario government said the decision was made because of “positive local trends of key public health indicators” in Toronto and Peel, including consistently lower new daily cases, hospital capacity and an ability to contact trace confirmed cases of COVID-19.
“We have made tremendous progress that allows us to return to something a little closer to our normal lives this summer, but we are not out of the woods yet,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford said.
“This virus is still among us and we have to be extra cautious to avoid sparking a surge or an outbreak. I strongly urge everyone to continue following public health protocols.”
Declines in new cases
Toronto and Peel, Ontario’s two most populous areas, have both seen steady declines in new daily cases over the last week. In the Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 update yesterday morning, the two public health units had just six and seven new cases, respectively.
Further, Toronto Public Health — which reports more timely data on COVID-19 in the city relative to the province — said later in the afternoon that it had confirmed just one additional case yesterday.
Despite the apparent progress in curbing the spread of the illness, Toronto Mayor John Tory has asked the province to implement additional measures that would be applied to bars, restaurants and indoor dining settings in the city.
In a letter to Ford earlier this month, Tory called for six actions that he hopes will be put in place quickly, including early closure times, further physical distancing restrictions and requiring customers to stay seated at all times.
Meanwhile, the province said it will continue to monitor trends in Windsor-Essex in the coming days and weeks. The areas of Kingsville and Leamington are still experiencing localized outbreaks among temporary farm workers who often live in cramped conditions.
Two dozen of Ontario’s 34 public health units were allowed to enter Stage 3 on July 17, with another seven joining them on July 24.
Two cities currently in Stage 3, Ottawa and Sudbury, have seen new cases of COVID-19 emerge in recent days, but Ford said Tuesday there are no plans to roll back the reopening in any areas.
Ford is scheduled to hold his daily COVID-19 briefing beginning at 1 p.m. ET. You will be able to watch the news conference live in this story.
Long-term care commission
According to Ford’s office, he will also reveal details of the province’s independent commission into how and why COVID-19 devastated much of the long-term care system.
Merrilee Fullerton, Ontario’s minister of long-term care, announced in May that the Ford government would launch an independent commission.
CBC News has counted more than 2,000 COVID-19-linked deaths among long-term care residents in Ontario, accounting for just under three-quarters of all deaths from the illness in the province. At the height of the crisis, public health officials tracked outbreaks in nearly half of Ontario’s 626 long-term care facilities.
The situation became so dire that members of the Canadian Armed Forces were deployed to seven long-term care homes to assist staff. Military personnel were so alarmed by what they observed that they issued a report detailing horrific conditions and allegations of abuse.
Fullerton said at the time that the commission would begin its work in September, and that the provincial government would reveal its leadership, scope and tentative dates for completion before then.
The Ontario Long-Term Care Association, opposition parties and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) all called for a full public inquiry into the sector, rather than an independent commission.
Those advocating for a public inquiry say it would result in a more thorough accounting of the long-term care system’s failures during the crisis.
But Fullerton said that “an independent, non-partisan commission is the best way to conduct a thorough and expedited review.”