By Parry Sound-Muskoka MPP Norm Miller
With increasing vaccination rates and decreasing infection rates, Ontario is getting very close to a gradual reopening. While COVID-19 is the main topic of discussion, at the same time the government is moving ahead with other initiatives including something that I know is near and dear to the hearts of many people in Huntsville.
First let’s look at where we were a month ago with regard to COVID-19 and where we are now.
In the last week of April, the third wave of COVID-19 was finally starting to subside but we were still seeing almost 4,000 new cases in Ontario per day. We had close to 900 COVID patients in intensive care units and some hospitals were forced to transfer patients to other hospitals further from home. At that point Ontario had administered just over four million vaccines in four months.
Now, one month later, we are seeing a seven day average of less than 1,700 new cases per day and we have administered 8.4 million vaccines. Across the province more than half the population has received a first dose of the vaccine. Here in Huntsville 52 per cent of the population has received a first shot. The number of COVID-19 patients in the ICU is down to 672 as of Wednesday, May 26. With the dropping ICU numbers some hospitals have resumed non-emergency surgeries.
These trends are good news and as a result our government opened up more outdoor activities in time for the Victoria Day weekend. But even outdoors we need to either maintain a two-metre distance from people outside our own households or wear a mask.
If we want the news to keep getting better we need to continue to follow the health measures and get vaccinated. If you want to be able to eat in restaurants this summer, if you want to be able to shop in person, if you want the businesses on Main Street to survive, the best thing you can do is get a vaccine. At this point anyone 12 years of age or older can book a vaccination appointment at www.ontario.ca/bookvaccine. If you have concerns about the vaccines, please talk to your primary care provider.
The Roadmap to Reopen lays out what vaccination rates need to be achieved to open up more businesses safely. I know the Roadmap doesn’t move as quickly as some would like but the last thing we want is a another wave of COVID.
The Roadmap sets vaccine thresholds and lays out what can open up after those thresholds are met as long as infection and hospitalization rates continue to decrease. All of Ontario will move through these steps together so that people from areas with higher infection rates aren’t tempted to go to other regions to access services.
Step One will start two weeks after at least 60 per cent of the adult population has received the first dose of the vaccine. This will allow the resumption of more outdoor activities with smaller, well-managed groups where risk of transmission is minimized. Among other things this step will allow small outdoor gatherings, outdoor dining, outdoor fitness classes, camping and short term rentals, non-essential retail with a street entrance, drive-in theatres, and outdoor religious services, all with restrictions and capacity limits.
Step Two will start three weeks after Step One if 70 per cent of adults have received at least the first dose of the vaccine and 20 per cent have received the second dose. Step Two will further expand outdoor activities and will resume limited indoor services. In this step we will be able to get hair cuts, kids will be able to go to summer camp and play outdoor team sports, and outdoor amusement parks like Santa’s Village will be able to reopen with restrictions.
Step Three will start three weeks after Step Two and if between 70 per cent and 80 per cent of adults have received a first dose of vaccine and 25 per cent of adults are fully vaccinated. At this point indoor dining, theatres, indoor sports and fitness facilities, museums, and more will be open with capacity limits and other restrictions.
The government is still working with public health officials and school boards to determine when schools will reopen. I continue to advocate for them to reopen for in-class learning, at least in the regions with fewer cases, in time for the last few weeks of the school year.
While COVID is dominating the headlines, it isn’t the only thing going on in government these days. Earlier this week I was pleased to take part in a virtual announcement that represents the next step in the return of passenger rail to Northeastern Ontario.
As I’m sure everyone will remember, the McGuinty Government cancelled the Ontario Northland train service in 2012. This week Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney announced plans for a 13-stop route that would provide service from Toronto to Timmins or Cochrane, including stops in Gravenhurst, Bracebridge and Huntsville. There is still a lot of work to do so it will be a few years before you will be able to board a train in Huntsville but it is a step towards the long awaited return of train service to Muskoka.
Photo of MPP Norm Miller is courtesy of his office. Queen’s Park photo “June 2012 Ontario Legislature Toronto” by Priscilla Jordão, via Wikimedia Commons, is licensed under CC BY 2.0 / Cropped from original.
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