TORONTO — As the last region in Ontario moves to the province's final reopening stage this week, Premier Doug Ford urged residents Monday to continue to exercise caution and follow public health rules to keep COVID-19 at bay.
The Windsor-Essex region, which has struggled with widespread COVID-19 outbreaks on farms, will advance to Stage 3 on Wednesday.
Dr. David Williams, the province's chief medical officer of health, said he made the decision based on positive local trends, including lower transmission rates, a significant increase in testing and the local public health unit's capacity to conduct rapid case and contact management.
Ford said the decision will allow more businesses to reopen and more people to return to work, adding that he will visit Windsor on Thursday.
"Thank you for listening to the public health advice and ensuring more businesses can open and more people can go back to work as all of Ontario moves into Stage 3," Ford said praising efforts to contain the virus locally. "Let's continue to stay on our guard against COVID-19."
The COVID-19 outbreaks on local farms have affected hundreds of migrant workers, and held Windsor-Essex back from Stage 3, which the rest of the province entered last month.
On Monday, Windsor-Essex reported 11 new cases of COVID-19, with 173 cases considered active in the community. Five new agri-food workers have tested positive for the virus in the previous 24 hours.
Ford, who has been critical of both farmers and migrant workers in the region for not taking part in testing, praised their collective efforts in recent weeks to address the virus.
"I think it's getting much better," he said. "We have more testing and we have the mobile units going to the farms and we're testing every day and I just want to thank the farmers. I want to thank the workers."
The area's medical officer of health stressed in his own daily media briefing that despite the economic and social relief the reopening will bring, people cannot stop practising physical distancing and wearing face coverings.
"The virus is not gone," Dr. Wajid Ahmed said. "The virus still exists in our community."
Ahmed said health officials are making progress in the region to contain outbreaks on local farms. Hundreds of migrant workers have contracted the virus in the region and the province continues to test and isolate them, he said.
"No one can predict what happens and which farms or workplaces can go into outbreak," he said. "The only way to prevent that is through proactive measures."
Ahmed said a number of factors were considered when it came to the decision to move the community forward, including local hospital capacity, which is currently at 85 per cent.
He said if the community experiences a spike in cases, elective surgeries may have to be cancelled.
"But those conversations will happen if it gets to the point of really being pressed for resources," he said.
Overall, Ontario reported 115 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday — the first day in more than a week that the province saw more than 100 new cases in one day.
The latest cases brought the total to 40,161, with 36,381 marked as resolved and 2,786 deaths.
Health Minister Christine Elliott acknowledged the "slight uptick" but said the trend in the province remains downward.
The minister also said 28 out of 34 of the province's public health units reported five or fewer new cases, while 18 reported none.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 10, 2020.
Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press