Ontario entered its first stage of reopening many businesses Tuesday, even as the number of new COVID-19 cases rose and the province extended its emergency orders and shuttered schools until September.
The official start to the province’s reopening plan included giving the green light to retailers, some sport and recreation facilities, vehicle dealerships, pet services and house cleaners.
Those businesses still have to comply with public health guidelines such as physical distancing as they welcome customers. Some business owners have expressed relief and excitement at the prospect of reopening, while others say they feel it’s too early to do so safely.
Customers lined up outside many stores with limits on how many people could be inside — and welcomed the chance to do so.
Madeleine Lewis stood in a short line outside a PetSmart in Toronto’s west end with her two dogs.
“I think this is no different than what we’re already doing with grocery stores,” she said. “We’ll be careful — it’s just much easier for me to shop for the dogs here than online.”
Jonathon Jackson waited about 30 minutes to get into Sail, an outdoor sports store, to look for fishing gear.
“It seems pretty safe to me and I do like to be able to shop in person to see exactly what I’m getting,” said Jackson, who wore gloves and a face mask.
Carmine Scioscia, the owner of That Dog Next Door, reopened his store and grooming salon Tuesday with a number of new safety measures in place to take precautions against the virus.
Scioscia and his employees are wearing masks and gloves, conducting special drop-offs to minimize contact and are doing extra cleaning, he said.
“The phones and email and DMs have been going crazy with people rushing trying to get in but we’re taking it slowly,” Scioscia said. “We have been doing kind of one dog at a time (and) we’ve had to spread them out even further to make sure that we can clean in between every dog — our tools, the room.”
Scioscia said he adapted his store in Toronto to do curb-side pickup and did some deliveries, but sales have slowed over the past month. He’s hoping, like many small businesses, for further government help with rent during the pandemic.
“It’s a relief to reopen, but there is also still anxiety,” he said.
Meanwhile, Premier Doug Ford made a much-anticipated announcement on the fate of the school year, saying he didn’t want to risk sending kids back now.
“This wasn’t an easy decision to make, but it was the right decision,” he said.
Child-care centres are set to gradually reopen as part of Ontario’s second reopening stage, which could come anywhere from two to four weeks after a consistent decline in new cases.
The province also extended its emergency orders until May 29, including the closure of bars and restaurants except for takeout and delivery, and limiting gatherings to five people.
However, the government is making a new exemption for drive-in religious gatherings, if vehicles are kept at least two metres apart and only contain members of the same household, and no one leaves their vehicle.
Included in the reopening are multi-use fields, off-leash dog areas, outdoor picnic sites, benches and shelters in parks. Outdoor playgrounds, splash pads and swimming pools will stay closed for now.
Ontario reported 427 new cases of COVID-19 Tuesday, and 15 more deaths.
That brings the total in the province to 23,384 cases — an increase of 1.9 per cent over the previous day, which is the largest growth rate in a week and a half. The total includes 1,919 deaths and 17,898 cases that have been resolved.
Ontario has seen massive drops in the numbers of tests completed over the past couple of days. The number went from about 16,000 two days ago to just 5,813 reported Tuesday.
In recent days, a goal of testing every long-term care resident was completed and Ontario just recently expanded guidelines for the general public, making it clear that anyone with symptoms can get tested.