WINDSOR, ONT. -- Case rates of COVID-19 are reaching record high across the province and are growing in Windsor-Essex as well, prompting Windsor’s medical officer of health to issue a challenge to the community.

“We have the opportunity to make the best use of it and use this as an opportunity to come out stronger once these restrictions are lifted,” Dr. Wajid Ahmed told reporters Monday.

Windsor-Essex recorded 53 new cases of COVID-19 April 12, bringing the total active case count to 424.

“That should put all of us in high alert to try to contain our cases locally,” says Dr. Ahmed.

It’s the same story across the province, with Ontario recording 4,401 cases Monday, a slight decrease from the record-setting 4,456 cases added Sunday.

Dr. Ahmed notes Windsor-Essex has already experienced the toll of the pandemic through tight reopening restrictions, which have had a devastating effect on the local economy. An estimated one in six small and medium-sized businesses have closed during the pandemic, according to the Windsor-Essex Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Dr. Ahmed says the human toll was greatest locally during the second wave in December, January and February.

“We lost hundreds and hundreds of life in that time,” says Dr. Ahmed.

So far, during the third wave, the community hasn’t seen the same level of deaths and hospitalizations from COVID-19, according to health unit data.

Ahmed says if people across the region follow public health guidelines and keep case rates down, Windsor-Essex could be in a better position for reopening the economy, come May.

“We have an opportunity to keep everyone safe and we have an opportunity to come out. Eventually when this lockdown and stay-at-home order is lifted, depending on our case rates, we will open up at the level of restrictions where we belong,” Ahmed says.

“We can bring it back to let’s say an orange restriction level, or in a yellow restriction level depending on where our case counts are.”