WINDSOR, ONT. --
Windsor-Essex has been given the green light to join the rest of the province in Stage 3.
The province made the announcement Monday stating based on “positive local trends of key public health indicators,” the region would be able to move into the next stage of Ontario’s reopening plan as of Wednesday at 12:01 a.m.
"Thanks to the collective efforts of our frontline health care workers, public health experts, and the people of Windsor-Essex, more businesses in the region can hang up their 'Open for Business' sign and more people can go back to work as of this Wednesday," Premier Doug Ford said in a news release. "As all of Ontario now enters into Stage 3, I ask everyone to remain on their guard and keep following the public health measures to protect the tremendous progress we've made and keep this deadly virus at bay."
Stage 3 includes the reopening of gyms, indoor dining at bars and restaurants and many facial services. The size of gatherings moves to 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors. Physical distancing is still required.
Luis Mendez of True Fitness has been waiting since March to open the studio doors.
“We’ve been eagerly awaiting patiently to basically re-open our business to our members,” Mendez said.
Policies are in place and signage will guide members through the safety protocols.
“There’s policies when you first walk in to make sure that we can keep everyone as safe as possible during this pandemic,” Mendez said. “At the end of the day that hasn’t changed, it’s not going anywhere.
Stage 3 will allow for restaurants to seat patrons inside, but some plan to wait a little longer before reopening dining areas.
“We’ll give it the weekend just to make sure we have everything set and in place exactly how we want it to go and then give our employees some time to be ready to open next week,” said Julie Coleman of the Roast N Toast Family Diner on Ottawa Street.
Van Niforos of the Penalty Box also plans to wait a little longer. The restaurant will continue with its takeout business for at least a couple of weeks.
“People have been asking, it’s not that it’s an easy decision,” Niforos said. “There’s a lot of things we have to consider and safety has to be the first and foremost consideration.
Jose’s plans to open its dining area as of Wednesday with only two sections opened, 50 people inside at a time, and customer movement within the restaurant will be limited to the washroom.
“It’s all about adapting,” owner Ernie Nesbitt said. “I think it you take a positive attitude rather than a negative one it goes a long ways with your staff and customers. Really, what are we trying to do? Keep everybody from getting sick.”
All public health regions except Windsor-Essex moved into Stage 3 by July 31. A statement from the province states the decision to move Windsor-Essex into the next stage came from the advice of the chief medical officer of health as well as the local medical officer of health and was based on lower transmission of COVID-19, ongoing hospital capacity, public health capacity to conduct rapid case and contact management as well as increase in testing.
“I want to take the time to thank each and every Ontarian for their efforts, sacrifice and hard work, the entire province will now be in Stage 3 effective this Wednesday," said Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and minister of health. "This is an important milestone for the province in our fight against COVID-19 and one we can all be proud of. However, it's never been more important for each of us to remain vigilant in following all public health advice."
Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens reacted to the announcement by thanking the Premier for seeing Windsor "through this difficult time."
“We are continuing to make steady progress. For seven straight days last week we’ve had less than 100 daily new cases of COVID-19 across Ontario," Ford said at an announcement Monday. "Thirty out of 34 regions are reporting less than five new cases a day."
He thanked the mayors, farmers, workers and people of Windsor-Essex and said he would be making a trip to Windsor on Thursday.
Windsor-Essex was the last region in the province to move into Stage 3, and the last to progress to Stage 2 as well. There was a rise in cases in late June and July, with the area recording the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the province. The agriculture sector in particular has been an area of concern for outbreaks, leading the province to send an Emergency Medical Assistance Team (E-MAT) to the area.
When asked about the situation Monday, Ford said he believes it has improved.
“I think it’s getting much better," he said. "We have more testing and we have the mobile units going to the farms. We’re doing testing every day."
The Windsor-Essex County Health Unit reported 11 new cases of COVID-19 Monday morning including five in the agri-farm sector. There are now 173 active cases of the virus in Windsor-Essex.
- With files from CTV Windsor's Bob Bellacicco