We're returning to a world with gyms, bars, indoor dining and playgrounds this Friday, July 24, with the Ontario government's announcement this afternoon that York Region is moving to stage 3 of its reopening plan as the COVID-19 curve continues to flatten.
The province announced nearly all businesses and public spaces can reopen in Newmarket and the region's other eight municipalities, joining the 24 regions — including neighbouring Simcoe Muskoka, Ottawa and Peterborough — already approved last week to move forward from stage 2.
As part of the stage 3 reopening, restrictions on gatherings have eased, with physical distancing of six feet or two metres still required:
- Indoor gathering limits will increase to a maximum of 50 people;
- Outdoor gathering limits will increase to a maximum of 100 people;
- Social circles, however, remain at a maximum of 10 people.
The public health and workplace safety measures and restrictions are required at all indoor and outdoor events, including concerts, live shows, festivals, conferences, sports and recreational fitness activities, fundraisers, fairs, festivals and open houses.
"I am happy for our town and the region’s many businesses that stage 3 will allow them to continue to recover and build for the future," Newmarket Mayor John Taylor said. "But I remain concerned about the potential for a second wave this fall as we move back indoors."
York Region's mandatory masking order came into effect last Friday, and York Region Public Health continues to encourage physical distancing and frequent hand washing to help stem further COVID-19 infections.
York Region had eight new cases yesterday, bringing its total to 3,210 cases, with 267 active. In the last seven days, there have been 62 new cases, and a median reproductive number of .95.
In Newmarket, an additional case in the age five to 19 demographic was reported yesterday, bringing its total to 246, with 16 active. In the last seven days, there have been six new cases.
"While we want as many people back to work and taking home a paycheque again as possible, it's important for everyone ― no matter what stage your community is in ― to remain on guard and keep following the public health advice," Premier Doug Ford said. "By working together, we can keep new case numbers down and ensure all of Ontario can enter stage 3 when it's safe to do so."
"I hope that everyone stays strongly committed to social distancing and to mask-wearing," Taylor said. "We know from other jurisdictions in the U.S. and around the world that it is easy to see rapid spikes in COVID cases and if we want to continue to reopen our economy, we must stay vigilant."
Durham, Halton, Hamilton, Niagara, Haldiman-Norfolk and Lambton are the other regions also moving to stage 3, however, Toronto, Peel and Windsor-Essex remain in stage 2, as a result of the province's consultations with Ontario's chief medical officer of health and other health experts, as well as trends of key public health indicators.
Regions remaining in stage 2 must maintain the existing gathering limit of 10. Social circles in all stages remain at a maximum of 10 people provincewide, regardless of stage.
The following, high-risk places and activities are not yet open, even for regions in stage 3, due to the likelihood of large crowds congregating, difficulties with physical distancing, or challenges maintaining the proper cleaning and sanitation required to prevent the spread of COVID‑19, according to the province:
- Amusement parks and water parks;
- Buffet-style food services;
- Dancing at restaurants and bars, other than by performers hired by the establishment following specific requirements;
- Overnight stays at camps for children;
- Private karaoke rooms;
- Prolonged or deliberate contact while playing sports;
- Saunas, steam rooms, bathhouses and oxygen bars;
- Table games at casinos and gaming establishments.
In a letter, Toronto Mayor John Tory urged Ontario Premier Doug Ford to enact stricter measures to stop the spread of COVID-19 in indoor dining or bar establishments, including restricting dining patrons from getting out of their chairs except for arriving, leaving the premise, paying or going to and from the bathroom.
He also wants restaurant operators to keep a log of all patrons and their contact details for up to 30 days, have last call at midnight instead of 2 a.m. for a period of time and mandate restaurant and bar staff to undergo health screening questions before the start of each shift.
He also asked Ford to outline mask requirements for staff and patrons in provincial regulations.
Responding to a media question in today's news conference, Ford acknowledged a concern regarding the increasing number of new COVID-19 cases in groups under the age of 39 who may be flouting physical distancing and social circle restrictions, and he encouraged young people "to do the right thing and don't go to those parties" for the sake of parents and grandparents who are more vulnerable to the virus if they become infected.
He added, "If bars are an issue, we'll address it."
Deputy Premier, Health Minister and Newmarket-Aurora MPP Christine Elliott acknowledged "a certain amount of COVID fatigue", particularly among young people, adding during reopening that "it's more important than before" to follow the public health restrictions that remain in place.
Mayor Taylor said he agrees with Tory’s recommendations, with one possible exception depending on the details.
"I do not think that patrons in a restaurant that they are attending to eat or drink should be required to wear a mask, particularly if the other recommendations are implemented, such as physical distancing."
At the beginning of each week, the province will continue to assess local trends in public health indicators, including rates of transmission, hospital capacity, progress on testing and contact tracing, to determine if the remaining regions can progress to stage 3.
Child care centres and home child care providers across the province are approved to operate with strict safety and operational requirements in place. Beginning on Monday, July 27, child care centres will be permitted to operate with cohorts of 15 children, an increase from the current restriction of 10.
You can check the Town of Newmarket's latest updates and details regarding its business concierge program here.
~With files from Kim Champion