Ontario is set for the next stage of reopening Friday, but the chief medical officer of health warns it will be a “challenge” to lift most remaining pandemic restrictions in August.
“We’ve got work cut out for us,” said Dr. Kieran Moore, noting the province would need 80 per cent of those 12 and up to have one shot and 75 per cent to be fully vaccinated.
“It’s going to be a bit of hard work for us all to achieve that high immunization rate. We are at 78 per cent of eligible Ontarians having their first dose … (and) we’re at 54.6 per cent that have had their second dose,” the top doctor said Tuesday.
Moore also had a sobering reminder that COVID-19 cases are expected to rise again in the fall as people spend more time indoors and kids return to school classrooms.
“We want to see a continuous improvement in vaccination rates throughout the summer … so that we can see a return to in-person learning while also handling the anticipated rise in infections that cold weather and indoor activities may bring,” he said.
“Delta will want to surge and return in September, if not earlier. All you have to do is look around the globe and see the increased activity in countries where Delta has gone unchecked.”
That’s a reference to the more contagious variant that is currently dominating Ontario’s dwindling COVID-19 cases and is sweeping parts of the United States and the United Kingdom.
But Moore emphasized things are “trending correctly” to enter the third stage of reopening as of 12:01 a.m. Friday because Ontarians are getting their shots.
And he revealed new data to bolster the argument that vaccines work.
Moore said of 11,721 COVID-19 cases among people aged 12 to 17 in the past three months, a staggering 99.3 per cent had not been vaccinated.
“Of the (45,970) 19 to 29 year olds that are positive for COVID-19 — the very socially active age group — 96 per cent were unvaccinated,” he told reporters at Queen’s Park.
As of 12:01 a.m. Friday, indoor dining in restaurants will be allowed for the first time in months.
Ontarians will also be permitted to return to gyms for workouts inside.
Indoor spectator sports, concerts, theatres, and cinemas can reopen at 50 per cent of the normal seated capacity or 1,000 people, whichever is less.
Similarly, outdoor spectator sporting events and concerts can go ahead with 75 per cent of the usual seating capacity or 15,000 people, whichever is less.
Galleries, museums, zoos, casinos, bingo halls, fairs, amusement parks, and other attractions can reopen at 50 per cent of indoor capacity and 75 per cent of outdoor capacity.
Moore said he is already looking ahead to a broader reopening as of Aug. 6. Health officials want to wait 21 days after this Friday to assess the impact of the next loosening of restrictions.
“We all want to see schools return as close to the pre-pandemic normal as is safely possible and solid health and safety protocols, coupled with an increased vaccination uptake will help to ensure that this happens,” he said.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce has been working closely with Moore and others to craft a back-to-school plan that is safe for students, teachers, and support staff.
“We need to remind ourselves that as we move indoors for the first time in over a year it’s important to be cautious and follow the public health guidelines,” the doctor said.
“We’re continuing to recommend strongly that people wear a mask indoors and at large gatherings outdoors. This extends to even the fully vaccinated, and this will help reduce community transmission, especially of the Delta variant.”