WINDSOR, ONT. -- Windsor-Essex has been in ‘Grey-Lockdown’ since mid-December and the medical officer of health explains what the next steps could be when the time is right to slowly ease the restrictions.

The region is also under a provincial stay-at-home order until Feb. 9 and schools are closed for in-class learning until Feb. 10.

Medical officer of health Dr. Wajid Ahmed says even though the new case counts are going down, it’s still not enough just yet.

“We are seeing a steady decline, but our numbers are still high,” says Ahmed.

The Windsor-Essex County Health Unit reported 55 new cases on Wednesday, 53 on Tuesday and 68 on Monday. That’s a major decline from last week, when the seven day moving average was over 125 cases.

Cases in Windsor-Essex

The per cent positivity rate was 8.7 per cent last week, compared to 11.7 the week before.

The Ontario government announced Nov. 3 that all Ontario public health unit regions would be categorized into five levels: Green-Prevent, Yellow-Protect, Orange-Restrict, Red-Control, and Grey-Lockdown.

The full guidelines for each tier are outlined in Ontario's COVID-19 Response Framework. Ontario restriction thresholds

The province’s framework to move from lockdown back to red will look at test positivity rate, increasing outbreaks among vulnerable populations and the risk of the hospital or ICU capacity being overwhelmed.

The red level guidelines feature a weekly incidence rate of less than 40 per 100,000 and a per cent positivity of 2.5 per cent or less.

Ahmed says they will have to see where the numbers stand as it gets closer to the end of the stay-at-home order.

“It takes a lot of effort from everyone, including our business community, when we are in lockdown to bring the case counts down,” says Ahmed. “We definitely don’t want to be in a situation where we open up too quickly, only to go into lockdown again.”

Windsor-Essex advanced rapidly through the shutdown stages in the fall as the COVID-19 casesstarted to rise. The region started at green on Nov. 3, moved to yellow on Nov. 16, advanced to orange on Nov. 23 and then to red on Nov. 30, before lockdown on Dec. 14.

“My guess is if we are trending down in a similar manner, we’ll have to go back in the similar manner as well, so right now we are in grey-lockdown and if the numbers justify that we should be in red, we’ll go to red,” says Ahmed.

The impact of lockdown is widespread, with gyms, non-essential stores at malls and hair salons all closed. Indoor dining at restaurants is also not permitted.

If the region moved back into red, all of those businesses could reopen under capacity limits and COVID-19 safety protocols.

When will Windsor-Essex students head back to the classroom?

Schools have also been closed to in-class learning in Windsor-Essex since Dec. 14 after Ahmed issued a Section 22 Order.

Ahmed’s order has expired, but the provincial government ordered online-only learning to continue in the region until Feb. 10.

Ahmed says he hopes that with the downward trend in cases, students will be able to return to the classroom safely as scheduled.

“We anticipate that once our case counts come to a situation that the province feels comfortable, we feel comfortable, that it’s a good place to be,” says Ahmed.

He acknowledges education is a top priority.

“We want the best for them,” says Ahmed. “We want to make sure that they are getting the right education in a safe environment.”

The health unit will be able to provide more details about the return to school as the deadline approaches.

“We’ll definitely be looking at it once we get closer to the timeline,” says Ahmed.