Unable to get a handle on COVID-19 case counts, Waterloo Region officials will delay the reopening of the economy the rest of the province will be enjoying next week. Instead, the region will remain in Step 1 of the provincial roadmap to reopen until at least mid-July.
Other municipalities in Ontario are slated to move into Step 2 of the plan on June 30.
Mounting case counts and prevalence of the fast-spreading Delta variant are being cited as the reason for the region’s announcement Thursday.
“To give our residents more time to be vaccinated, to avoid having to take a step back, and based on our situation at this time, I anticipate the Region of Waterloo will be able to move into Step 2 in mid-July,” said medical officer of health Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang in a release June 24. “This approach gives us the best chance to hold onto the gains we have made.”
The news comes as a devastating blow to local businesses deemed non-essential in Step 1, but due to reopen in the next phase. Hair salons and barbershops such as the Lux Cuts Barber Shop in Elmira have not had a customer in their chair for seven months.
“It’s upsetting – it’s not good,” said Lux Cuts Barber Shop owner Kevin Hotradat of the delay.
There is a very real possibility that those wishing to get their hair cut will simply venture out to other regions – thus taking away future business for those salons and barbershops who have been held back, he suggested.
“Now we’re going to lose even more business because everybody’s going to be driving away to get their cuts,” explained Hotradat.
Region officials are aware that holding the community back from reopening leaves many businesses and citizens in a tough situation. But with Waterloo leading new case counts in the province, tough decisions had to be made.
“I fully understand that pausing our move to Step 2 will greatly impact many in our community,” said Regional Chair Karen Redman. “We are in one of the most critical phases of the pandemic locally and this decision is made with the health and safety of all of our community at heart.”
While the region’s case counts may be leading the province, Wang notes that if not for the vaccine, case counts would have grown exponentially. Currently, more than 75 per cent of residents 18 and over have had at least one dose of a vaccine, and more than 21 per cent have a second dose – but that number needs to continue in order to move forward, she said.
“Without the power of the vaccine and without thousands and thousands of our residents getting vaccinated at our clinics, in pharmacies and at family doctors’ offices – our COVID-19 numbers would have grown exponentially over the last few weeks due to the Delta variant,” said Wang.
“Maximizing the number of our residents who get a first and then second dose is our way out, and I urge all residents to get their first and second doses as soon as they are available to them. In addition to the regional clinics, we have over 123 pharmacies in our region giving out vaccines and many family medicine practices doing the same.”
Health officials say that after gathering more data in the coming weeks they will be in a better position to provide a concrete date as to when the region will reopen.