Toronto's Stage 3 Doesn’t Mean ‘Back To Normal,’ Expert Warns

It's important to keep following physical distancing rules, even as indoor businesses re-open.

Living in the COVID-19 era means living with a lot of unknowns. One of the biggest dilemmas a lot of us are facing involve trying to decide what’s safe and what isn’t. As businesses start to re-open, those questions are more important than ever.

On Wednesday morning, the Toronto and Peel regions joined other parts of Ontario in entering Stage 3 of the province’s re-opening plan. That means most businesses will be allowed to open up, including gyms, indoor bars and restaurants, museums, libraries and community centres. Indoor gatherings for weddings or funerals are limited to 30 per cent capacity, and other indoor gatherings can have up to 50 people.

Buffets, amusement parks, saunas, indoor karaoke rooms, overnight children’s camps, and table games at casinos remain closed.

Gyms that re-open will likely be cleaned and disinfected regularly, and should have other procedures in place.
Gyms that re-open will likely be cleaned and disinfected regularly, and should have other procedures in place.

Many parts of the country are at a similar stage: B.C. is allowing travel, Quebec has resumed nearly all economic activity, the Maritime provinces have allowed an “Atlantic bubble," where residents are allowed to travel within the region.

Re-opening businesses in most of Ontario makes sense, said Eleanor Fish, a doctor and professor in the University of Toronto’s Immunology Department. Toronto’s cases have gone down since early May, and the province has limited person-to-person contagion.

“The decision is realistic, based on no community spread,” Fish told HuffPost Canada.

Also, “humans are social. We’re already meeting in groups, or in people’s back gardens or in parks.”

But Fish stressed that it’s important to remember that entering this new phase is not a free pass to “go back to normal.”

“We’re not saying, ‘We’re opening up and everything’s back to normal,’” she said. “That’s not the case, and that shouldn’t be the message that’s being sent. We can send the message loud and clear and unequivocally, that stage three does not mean everything’s OK.”

“What we’re saying is, facilities that are opening up will put in place the appropriate precautions to hopefully prevent any transmission.”

A server wears a face shield as she takes an order at a restaurant in Montreal.
A server wears a face shield as she takes an order at a restaurant in Montreal.

Those precautions will likely include physical distancing, limits on how many people can enter a space, directing people to wear a mask when possible, regular hand washing and sanitation, and thorough cleaning of common areas. “Those kinds of very simple little things will make a profound difference,” Fish said.

She’s also hoping to see businesses get clients’ contact information, so that if there is an outbreak it will be easy to contain it.

“I think the key here is excellent contact tracing,” she said.

It’s inevitable that there will be spikes in cases when businesses re-open, she said. But if contact tracing is done thoroughly, those outbreaks can be contained.

It’s also important to remember that having 50 people inside a gym or restaurant is different from having 50 people inside your home. Businesses will have guidelines about people keeping physical distance from one another, and will likely require employees to wear masks, among other precautions.

Entering the next stage “is not open license to have a house party,” Fish said.

While she feels the move is a reasonable one, it’s important that people continue to follow public health guidelines.

“Don’t assume, because we’ve gone into stage three, all bets are off.” she said.

“This virus doesn’t distinguish between phase one, phase two, phase three. It’s transmitted in the identical way. So, complacency is unacceptable.”