TORONTO — Ontario health officials are in discussions about the second stage of the province’s economic reopening plan, and Premier Doug Ford said Wednesday he hopes to bring it forward over the next week.

Numbers of new cases have gone up and down in the two weeks since Ontario entered Stage 1, but the province has previously said it wants to see a consistent, two-to-four-week decline in new cases before reopening more.

Ontario reported 338 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, bringing the total in the province to 29,047. 

A spokeswoman for Health Minister Christine Elliott said Ontario will take a “measured, gradual approach to reopening” based on advice of health officials and is looking at whether some health units can enter Stage 2 before others.

“We’ve always been clear that each stage will last for approximately two-to-four-week periods to allow for close monitoring of any impacts or potential resurgence of cases,” Hayley Chazan said in a statement.

Ford said even though Ontario extended its state of emergency Tuesday until June 30, it won’t slow down the reopening process.

“It’s in front of the health table right now and hopefully over the next week we’ll be able to discuss that with the people of Ontario,” Ford said.

When asked specifically if restaurants may be able to open patios in the second stage, Ford said it’s one area he’s looking at, particularly in the context of a regional reopening.

“I know a lot of people in rural areas want that,” he said. “That’s up to the health table right now and they’ll make those decisions within the week and we’ll be able to come out to the public and discuss that.”

Ford last week said he was asking health officials how parts of the province could be reopened differently. Two-thirds of the province’s cases are in the Greater Toronto Area, while some public health units are reporting few, if any, active COVID-19 cases.

Ontario’s broad reopening framework indicated that Stage 2 could include opening more businesses, more outdoor spaces, and allowing some larger public gatherings. Education Minister Stephen Lecce has also said that child care centres would start to reopen in stage two.

As for schools, Lecce said a plan for a September reopening will come in a few weeks.

“Working with the best medical and scientific minds in the country, we put together a team that’s informing cabinet on how to reopen, what those protocols should look like,” he said.

“I don’t want to get ahead of that process because to be fair, we’re continuing to consult. Not just with medical and scientific minds, but with educators, with parents, and of course with students.”

Both the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation and the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association said Wednesday there hasn’t been enough consultation with teachers.

OECTA president Liz Stuart said they are wondering how to ensure frequent hand washing in portables and other classrooms without running water, how younger children can physically distance and whether teachers will have access to personal protective gear.

OSSTF president Harvey Bischof said his union is working on a white paper with proposals including on health and safety and next year’s expectations around moving between classroom and online instruction.

“We’re going to have kids coming to us next year on an even wider spectrum of past learning than we typically do,” he said.

“Some kids will have engaged pretty successfully in this emergency distance learning that we’re providing and some have simply disengaged and checked out.”

The government is looking at guidelines on cleaning, personal protective equipment, screening and testing, adapting classrooms, and the possibility that schools may have to open and close.

“School boards and educators will be expected to move fluently between in person and online delivery,” the government says in a framework document.  

Lecce did not directly answer a question of whether it will be inevitable to see COVID-19 cases in schools once they reopen in September.

Provincially, Ontario’s total number of cases include 2,312 deaths — 19 over the previous day — and 22,811 cases that have been resolved.

The number of people in hospital dropped, though the amount of people in intensive care and on ventilators rose slightly.

Ontario completed 17,537 tests in the previous day, more than the 16,000 the province has pledged — but often failed — to do since the beginning of May, but still short of the government’s goal of 20,000 a day.

The province is now dispatching mobile testing units to “hot spot” sites, starting Tuesday with one in east Toronto. That saw 500 people attend for testing, with line-ups of 30 minutes, the government said.

The number of long-term care facilities experiencing active COVID-19 outbreaks dropped below 100 Wednesday for the first time since the province started publicly reporting that figure in April.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 3, 2020.

Allison Jones, The Canadian Press

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