No word yet on when CK could advance to Stage 3 of reopening

Mayor Darrin Canniff, Dr. David Colby and CAO Don Shropshire during a Facebook live stream on March 24, 2020 (Screengrab via Municipality of Chatham-Kent Facebook)

Provincial officials are having some discussions about moving to Stage 3 of Ontario’s reopening plan but there is no word yet when or if Chatham-Kent will be included in that right away.

When asked whether he has heard anything about the possibility of Chatham-Kent moving ahead, Chatham-Kent’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Colby simply responded, “No” — adding later that he “has not been advised by the province about the timing or the nature of CK’s advancement to Phase 3.”

Chatham-Kent was included in the first group of regions permitted to advance to Stage 2 of the re-opening plan on June 12.

CK Public Health reported on Thursday afternoon there was only one active case of COVID-19 in the Chatham area. It’s linked to ongoing outbreaks in the agri-food sector in Essex County.

As of Thursday morning, there were still no outbreaks at local long-term care facilities and there were no inpatients at the Chatham-Kent Health Alliance who had tested positive for COVID-19.

In a news conference on Tuesday, Health Minister Christine Elliott said provincial officials are discussing plans for Stage 3, but didn’t put a timeline on when that could move ahead.

“Things have been going quite well in Stage 2, but we are only several weeks into it,” said Elliott “We still need the data from about another week to really understand if there is cause for any concern or anything that is causing outbreaks… we need to assess it on a daily basis.”

Elliott added that provincial officials are in discussions about whether to move to the next stage regionally, which parts of Ontario could be first in line to move to the next stage, when that will happen, and what specifically will re-open in the next stage.

A previous release from the province said the framework for Stage 3 would likely include “reopening most remaining workplaces and community spaces while carefully and gradually lifting restrictions.”

Large public gatherings will also continue to be restricted, but the next stage is expected to include the gradual reopening of playgrounds, indoor and outdoor recreational facilities, gyms, indoor sports facilities, fitness facilities, amusement parks and waterparks — all with restrictions and public health measures in place.

When Chatham-Kent does get the all-clear to move to Stage 3, Dr. Colby said his main concern is that people won’t take safety precautions seriously enough. He’s urging people to continue observing proper health and safety guidelines — including physical distancing and using personal protective equipment — to prevent future outbreaks.

In the meantime, planning is also underway for a return to school in the fall.

Dr. Colby said public health officials are in discussion with both the Lambton-Kent District School Board and the St. Clair Catholic District School Board on logistics of what that might look like, adding that he is “sure the province will weigh in on this.” He said it is very difficult to make any decisions because, at this point, there is still some conflicting information on how COVID-19 is spread among children and youth.

“There is some scientific literature that seems to indicate that transmission between kids and from kids to adults is not as big a factor as was modelled at the beginning of the pandemic,” said Colby. “On the other hand, Israel recently opened up their schools and saw a spike in hundreds and hundreds of cases as a result of doing that, which has given pause to exactly how this needs to proceed.”

Dr. Colby said from what he understands, the plan is still to have the new school year start in September, but he said the logistics of that are subject to being modified depending on what happens between now and then.