COVID-19: Ontario announces three-step reopening plan
Patio dining and retail will resume around June 14, but restrictions on outdoor recreation are lifting on May 22
By Kevin Ritchie
May 20, 2021
Ontario has announced a three-part province-wide reopening plan that will allow outdoor dining and non-essential retail to reopen by the week of June 14.
Premier Doug Ford, along with Health Minister Christine Elliott, laid out what he called “a slow and measured reopening of the province” based on vaccination rates.
Before that begins, the province is lifting restrictions on most outdoor recreation on May 22 at 12:01 am, including golf, soccer, tennis, skate parks, batting cages and basketball courts. Outdoor gathering limits will also be expanded to five people.
The first phase would begin when 60 per cent of adults have received at least one dose, though officials expect to pass that number by the end of May.
Ford said the reopening will lag behind that milestone because “it takes a couple weeks [for the vaccine] to get into your system so that’s what we’re waiting for.”
There will be at least 21 days between each of the three steps to allow the government to assess public health indicators.
In step one, large gatherings will be expanded to up to 10 people, outdoor dining will be allowed with four people per table, essential retail can operate at 25 per cent capacity and non-essential retail can operate at 15 per cent.
Other things that can resume in step one include day camps, outdoor religious services, rites and ceremonies with capacity based on physical distancing, outdoor sports, training and fitness classes of up to 10 people.
The second step in the Ontario reopening plan will begin when 70 per cent of adults have one dose and 20 per cent are fully vaccinated.
Outdoor gatherings will be expanded to up to 25 people, indoor gatherings of five people will be allowed, outdoor dining can expand to six people per table, personal care services and libraries can resume with face coverings, and amusement parks, outdoor cinemas and performing arts and live music will be allowed. Retail capacity will be increased to 50 per cent for essential and to 25 per cent for non-essential.
The third phase will begin when 70 to 80 per cent of adults have one dose and 25 per cent are fully vaccinated. “Larger” indoor and outdoor gatherings will be allowed, and restrictions will lift on indoor events and activities including gyms, cinemas, performing arts facilities, restaurants, bars and museums with capacity limits.
Publicly funded and private schools will continue with remote learning. Asked whether schools would reopen, Ford said “right now we have some differing opinions.”
He said wants a consensus among health advisors, adding Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health David Williams wants schools to reopen, but some advisors on the science table are not in favour.
Following Ford’s news conference opposition NDP leader Andrea Horwath tweeted that the return of outdoor recreation is “good news” but “unfortunately Doug Ford has still left kids, families and schools hanging.”
NDP housing critic Jessica Bell noted the reopening plan does not include child care. “How does this government expect people to return to work if school is closed? How do we plan? What about our kids’ health and learning?” she asked on Twitter.
Meanwhile, the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses urged Ford to immediately end the lockdown and allow small business to reopen to in-person customers with rapid COVID-19 testing.
“Ontario’s reopening plan reads more like a plan to ensure the province is the last jurisdiction in the continent to allow even a trickle of business activity to resume,” the organization said in a statement. “CFIB is deeply disappointed that there isn’t an immediate reopening of low-risk business activities, like shopping at small retailers, visiting hair and nail salons, gyms and patio dining at restaurants.”
The province remains under a stay-at-home order, which is set to expire on June 2.
“The direction of the pandemic has turned”
Williams told reporters at a Queen’s Park press briefing earlier in the afternoon that the province’s public health indicators remain a lot higher than during the dip between the second and third waves, and that Ontario is “nowhere near where we were last summer.”
“We’re moving in a good direction and a good pace at this time,” he said.
Ontario’s seven-day average for new cases is now at 2,131, down from 2,731 last Thursday. There are 1,320 people in hospital and 721 patients in intensive care units, which is down from peak of 900 but still high enough to cause heavy strain on the health-care system.
The positivity rate has dropped to 5.2 per cent, which is higher than in the second wave when it was between one and two per cent. Williams said testing volumes are steady, indicating “substantial gains.”
“We’re encouraged and optimistic but at the same time we’re cautious,” he said.
According to the latest data modeling projections from Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, the province’s daily case count could drop to around 500 and lower by July if public health restrictions remain in place through June 16.
The daily count would drop to around 1,000 and stay if restrictions lift on June 2. The projections assume vaccinations continue at a pace of 100,000 to 150,000 per day and no new variants of concern enter the picture.
Overall, new cases, the testing positivity rate and hospitalization rates are declining thanks to public health measures and vaccinations, said Adalsteinn Brown, co-chair of the COVID-19 science table.
“The direction of the pandemic has turned and if we’re careful and cautious we can maintain this momentum,” he said. “And this momentum is what gets us to a good summer.”
In both projected scenarios, intensive care unit patients would drop to around 400 by mid-June
However, Brown called projected declines in ICU patients “likely optimistic” given younger patients tend to spend longer periods of time life support than older people and patients from other wards would shift back to ICUs.
Reopening schools would increase daily cases by up to 11 per cent, a scenario Brown called “manageable.”
Safe outdoor activities should be encouraged
Brown said outdoor activities are “substantially safer” than indoor activities and should be “encouraged” if certain precautions are taken.
For example, people should avoid crowds, avoid traveling to other regions, keep a distance or wear a mask when outside if near people they don’t live with, avoid carpooling or camping with people outside their households, and those who play basketball or doubles tennis should wear masks.
He said if the province lifts restrictions on outdoor recreation, indoor change rooms serving those amenities should remain closed, as indoor spaces – including indoor dining – are less safe than outdoor spaces. Singing and playing music outdoors where social distancing is in place is also considered safer.
The vaccination campaign targeted at hot spot areas has been a success, he added, noting that the communities hardest hit by COVID-19 now have higher vaccination rates than the least-hit areas.
However, the vaccination rates in the 80 and over group in hot spots remains at a relatively low 73 per cent, meaning officials need to figure out how to reach older people in those neighbourhoods with vaccines.
The reopening plan for Ontario
The first step will begin after 60 per cent of Ontario adults receive at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and if public health indicators, such as hospitalizations, ICU occupancy and new admissions and case rates indicate the province can safely start to reopen. The government expects to enter step one the week of June 14.
More outdoor activities with “smaller, well-managed crowds where risk of transmission is minimized” will be allowed, as will retail with restrictions:
Outdoor gatherings up to 10 people;
Outdoor dining up to 4 people per table;
Outdoor fitness classes, personal training and sports training up to 10 people;
Essential retail at 25 per cent capacity and can sell all goods (including discount and big box);
Non-essential retail at 15 per cent capacity;
Retail stores in malls closed unless the stores have a street facing entrance;
Outdoor religious services, rites and ceremonies with capacity limited to permit 2 metres’ physical distancing;
Horse racing and motor speedways without spectators;
Outdoor horse riding;
Outdoor pools, splash pads and wading pools with capacity limited to permit 2 metres’ physical distancing;
Outdoor zoos, landmarks, historic sites, and botanical gardens with capacity limits;
Campsites, campgrounds and short-term rentals; and
Ontario will remain in step one for at least 21 days. If at the end that period, 70 per cent of adults have one vaccine dose and 20 per cent of adults have two doses and there are positive trends in public health and health system indicators, step two will begin.
Outdoor activities expand and limited indoor services with small numbers of people where face coverings are worn will resume, with other restrictions in place:
Outdoor gatherings up to 25 people;
Indoor gatherings up to 5 people and other restrictions;
Outdoor dining up to 6 people per table;
Outdoor sports and leagues;
Outdoor meeting and event spaces with capacity limits;
Non-essential retail at 25 per cent capacity; essential retail at 50 per cent capacity;
Personal care services where face coverings can be worn at all times with capacity limits;
Outdoor cinemas and performing arts with capacity limits;
Horse racing and motor speedways for spectators with capacity limits;
Outdoor tour and guide services with capacity limits;
Indoor religious services, rites or ceremony gatherings at 15 per cent capacity;
Public libraries with capacity limits;
Outdoor waterparks and amusement parks with capacity limits; and
Fairs and rural exhibitions with capacity limits.
Ontario will remain in step two for at least 21 days. If at the end of those 21 days the province has vaccinated 70 to 80 per cent of adults with one dose and 25 per cent of adults with two, and positive trends in public health and health system indicators continue, Ontario will move to step three.
This step will permit indoor services with larger numbers of people, with restrictions in place, including but not limited to:
Outdoor gatherings with larger capacity limits;
Indoor gatherings with larger capacity limits and other restrictions;
Indoor dining with capacity limits;
Indoor sports and recreational fitness facilities with capacity limits;
Indoor meeting and event spaces with capacity limits;
Essential and non-essential retail capacity expanded;
Personal care services with capacity expanded and other restrictions;
Indoor cinemas and performing arts facilities with capacity limits;
Indoor and outdoor religious services, rites or ceremony gatherings with capacity limited to permit 2 metres’ physical distancing;
Indoor museums and art galleries with capacity limits;
Indoor zoos, aquariums, waterparks and amusement parks with capacity limits;
Casinos and bingo halls with capacity limits; and
Other outdoor activities from Step Two permitted to operate indoors.
Kevin has worked in journalism for 20 years, first as a general assignment reporter before being sucked into the glamorous life that is arts and entertainment coverage. Kevin now contributes to music, tv, film and culture.