Leadership with the Northwestern Health Unit approves of Ontario’s three-step reopening plan, but say they were hoping to see more of a regional approach for northwestern Ontario’s public health restrictions.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Deputy Premier and Health Minister Christine Elliott unveiled the three-phase provincial reopening plan on May 20, stressing the province won’t risk reopening things too soon or too quickly.

“I think the plan is reasonable,” said Medical Officer of Health with the Northwestern Health Unit, Dr. Kit Young Hoon, during her weekly conference with regional media members. “Opening up outdoor activities is definitely a good starting point.”

The reopening plan includes reopening certain outdoor amenities like golf and tennis as of Saturday, May 22, and up to 5 residents will be able to gather outdoors.

“We do know that there’s a reduced risk outside, and the risk is relatively low for activities like playing tennis and soccer and so on, because you’re outside and you’re able to maintain a physical distance,” adds Young Hoon. “It’s a good way to allow people to take a break from having to be inside all of the time.”

While she celebrated the reopening of outdoor areas, Young Hoon says a regional approach, with different health measures based on that specific catchment area’s COVID-19 case rates and hospitalizations, may have been a better choice for the province.

“Overall, the measures are a staggered approach and it makes sense. But in the end, the province has decided to go with a province-wide approach as opposed to a regional approach. It could lead to potential problems. I think a regional approach might be more relevant to some areas. I’m not sure why they chose that approach.”

The first phase of the plan would include 10-person outdoor gatherings, dining of four people per table outdoors, outdoor fitness classes with 10 people, the reopening of specific street-facing businesses in malls, retail limits at 15 percent capacity for non-essential businesses, speedways without spectators, outdoor horse riding, and the reopening of outdoor religious services, campsites, Ontario parks, pools, splash pads, fitness centres and zoos.

“One of the things that’s always been different for our region is retail settings,” notes Young Hoon. “They aren’t necessarily a high-risk situation because we don’t have the same type of retail settings that occur in southern Ontario.”

But despite what a regional approach may have looked like, Young Hoon says the reopening plan surrounds vaccination coverage rates across the province. In step one, Ontario is aiming to hit 60 percent of adults vaccinated with one dose of the vaccine, which is expected by the week of June 14.

“Much of the three-step roadmap to reopen the province is based on COVID-19 vaccine coverage rates,” adds Young Hoon. “I highly encourage everyone to get vaccinated for COVID-19. If anyone is hesitant to get the vaccine, I can assure you it is safe and effective, and by getting it you are helping yourself and your community.”

Ontario will remain in each step for at least three weeks, based on vaccine uptake and the province meeting key health indicators like daily case counts and the number of hospitalizations. Meaning the second step isn’t expected until the week of July 5.

Ontario's stay-at-home orders are set to expire as of June 2, although, the provincial emergency brake and its restrictions will remain in effect. The provincial border restrictions at the Ontario-Manitoba border and the Ontario-Quebec border are currently set to remain until June 2.