Ontario reported an additional 115 cases of COVID-19 on Monday, ending a week-long streak with fewer than 100 new daily cases.
The slight uptick comes as the province's ministry of health announced that Windsor-Essex, the last of Ontario 34 public health units still in Stage 2 of the province's COVID-19 reopening plan, has been given a green light to move ahead into the next phase of recovery.
"The decision was based on positive local trends of key public health indicators, including lower transmission of COVID-19, ongoing hospital capacity, public health capacity to conduct rapid case and contact management, and a significant increase in testing," the province said in a news release.
Outbreaks of the illness among temporary farm workers in the area had previously prevented public health officials from allowing Windsor-Essex to proceed into Stage 3.
Dr. David Williams, Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health, said health officials are closely monitoring the situation and taking every step to ensure the healthy workforce is not infected.
"That means a strong, stringent control on any new migrant workers that are coming in, and adherence to the quarantine period," Williams said at a news conference Monday afternoon.
"It's not only a concern to us in Windsor, it's throughout Ontario, and I know our partners in the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs are very concerned about that, as well as our federal counterparts, to ensure that going forward, we don't repeat what we experienced earlier in the year."
The move to Stage 3 officially takes effect at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday.
"This is an important milestone for the province in our fight against COVID-19 and one we can all be proud of. However, it's never been more important for each of us to remain vigilant in following all public health advice," Health Minister Christine Elliott is quoted as saying in the news release.
At a news conference Monday afternoon, Premier Doug Ford said he was happy for the people of Windsor-Essex and he thanked all who worked to make Stage 3 reopening possible.
"I want to thank the local public health unit, the farmers, the workers and especially the people of Windsor-Essex. I'm so happy for them, I really am," Ford said.
"Thank you for listening to the public health advice in ensuring more businesses can open and more people can go back to work."
Stage 3 allows for activities such as indoor dining in restaurants, live performing arts shows and the reopening of movie theatres and playgrounds — albeit with significant health and safety measures in place, including physical distancing, enhanced cleaning protocols and Plexiglas barriers.
Most of the province moved into Stage 3 on July 17, with the exception of Windsor-Essex, the Greater Toronto Area and other parts of southern Ontario. Toronto and Peel Region were cleared to enter Stage 3 on July 31.
Ford confident, but realistic about back-to-school plans
With schools set to reopen, the premier sought to reassure parents. But he while he is confident about the systems in place, he is also realistic and could not rule out kids and teachers would not get infected.
"To say I'm confident no one is going to catch the virus is just not realistic with 2 million people going back into the system and 60,000 teachers," the premier said.
"But I do believe we have the best place in the entire country … we've done everything we possibly can to make sure we have the safest environment, making sure we're adaptable, making sure we're flexible and we continue listening."
'We can do this,' education minister says
Education Minister Stephen Lecce, who also spoke at the news conference, said the back-to-school plan is premised on ensuring every single protocol is in place.
"The effectiveness of this plan is predicated on the willingness of the population to continue to do their part," he said.
"The fact that for seven consecutive days … [we had] less than 100 people with positive tests is an amazing demonstration that we can do this.
Meanwhile, concerned parents calling for smaller class sizes are set to hold a protest outside of Queen's Park on Monday afternoon.
Ontario Liberals want start to school year delayed
On Monday Ontario Liberal leader Steven Del Duca wrote to Ford calling for a delay to the start of the school year, among other recommendations. According to Del Duca, since the announcement of the back-to-school plan, tens of thousands of parents and grandparents have taken to social media and signed petitions confirming their considerable concern with the province's approach. Del Duca recommended the following steps:
- Convene an Education Command Table, which should include representatives from the medical community, the education system (school boards, teachers' federations, education worker unions, parent associations and even student trustees must all be represented), as well as each opposition party.
- Direct the Ministry of Finance and the Treasury Board Secretariat to dedicate the funding that's needed to cap class sizes at a maximum of 15 students.
- If necessary, after consultation with the Education Command Table, "consider a short delay to the start of the school year to ensure that we get it right."
According to Del Duca, this could be done using the same regional approach that's been used for the reopening of the economy, recognizing that a one-size-fits-all plan may not be advisable "A short delay, where necessary, would give you the chance to ensure that Ontario's two million students, their families and all who work in the education system are kept safe," Del Duca wrote in the letter.
Here's where the new COVID-19 cases were found
Five public health units across the province reported 10 or more newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 in today's update:
- Ottawa: 20
- Peel: 19
- Toronto: 16
- Windsor-Essex: 12
- Niagara: 11
Meanwhile, a total of 18 health units reported no new cases at all.
Ontario has now seen a total of 40,161 confirmed infections of the novel coronavirus since the outbreak began in late January. Of those, about 90.6 per cent are considered resolved by public health officials. Another 102 infections were marked resolved in today's update.
Today is the first time since infections peaked that the number of confirmed active cases is below 1,000, with some 994 still ongoing. And the province's rolling five-day average of new daily cases, a measure that smoothes peaks and valleys in the data, has been in consistent decline since late July, with the notable exception of several days at the beginning of August.
Ontario's official COVID-19 death toll remained steady at 2,786. A CBC News count based on data provided by public health units puts the real toll at 2,822.
All of the figures used in this story are found in the Ministry of Health's daily update, which includes data from up until 4 p.m. the previous day. The number of cases for any particular region on a given day may differ from what is reported by the local public health unit, which often avoid the lag times in the provincial system.