Peel given green light to enter Stage 2 on Wednesday: region sees largest single-day increase in COVID-19 cases since June 3rd
“As of June 24 at 12.01 a.m., the City of Toronto and Peel Region will be allowed to enter Stage 2,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced at 1 p.m. Monday.
The news is music to the ears of thousands of businesses in Mississauga and Brampton that have been shuttered for months.
Welcome as the greenlight is to so many across the region, it comes alongside an ominous detail. On the same day it was told to proceed to Stage 2, Brampton drove Peel to its highest number of COVID-19 cases since June 3.
As of 12 p.m. on Monday, Peel Public Health announced 61 new cases of the novel coronavirus, 42 of those were in Brampton and 14 in Mississauga.
COVID-19 case numbers in Peel as of June 22.
Stage 2 means the cities’ bars and restaurants can open outdoor patio spaces, malls can open their doors and various other outdoor activities, like camping and some sports, can begin. Personal services such as hair dressing can also start operating again, all with increased public health measures in place.
Some Brampton staples will also be returning as the city announced last week, prior to the news about Peel moving to Stage 2, that its Farmer’s Market in the city's downtown would be reopening on June 27.
The move is a relief for both cities, after Peel was left behind last week while its GTA neighbours, including York Region, were given the go-ahead.
Since May, Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie and her Brampton counterpart Patrick Brown advocated for a regional approach to reopening. Concerned by persistent cases in Peel and the province’s full steam ahead approach to reopening the economy, they asked Ford to allow them to open at their own pace.
In response to their pleas, Ontario settled on a regional reopening strategy. Each of the province’s 34 public health units had to pass certain criteria, including a clear decline in new COVID-19 cases in order to progress to Stage 2 of reopening.
On Wednesday, Peel will finally reach that stage, but it remains unclear if Brampton is safe yet, as its numbers are now far outpacing the rest of the region.
In the first slew of reopening announcements, much of the province outside of the GTHA, where the virus has been most prevalent, were allowed to move on. The following week, June 15, many more were given the greenlight, including Hamilton and Durham Region.
Only Peel, Toronto and Windsor-Essex were left languishing in Stage 1.
“With the public health trends improving day by day across the province, I am hopeful all regions of Ontario will enter Stage 2 very soon,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford said at the time. “But we must remain on our guard to prevent any potential surge or secondary wave by continuing to follow the sound advice of our public health officials.”
Both Crombie and Brown supported the move, hoping the next week would bring better news. It did.
Despite being offered the regional approach it asked for, there was some unrest in Mississauga last week as Peel was left behind.
During the pandemic, after a difficult midway period, Mississauga has shown significant progress in quelling the spread of the virus. On June 21, of the region’s 26 new cases of COVID-19, only three were in Mississauga, 18 were in Brampton and four in Caledon (1 case is still pending). Mississauga had outpaced its neighbour Brampton in total case counts and per capita infection rates through the middle phase of the pandemic, but with screening in Brampton languishing at roughly one eighth the number of tests the province set as a target, through the end of May, the country’s ninth largest city has now become one of the worst hit by the novel coronavirus.
On June 18, for example, Brampton had 41 new cases of COVID-19. Markham, in neighbouring York Region, had two. On June 19, Markham had five and Brampton had 24. Although Markham is smaller than Brampton (a population of 328,966 in 2016 compared to 593,638), the per-capita case count remains significantly higher in Peel's second largest city.
On Monday morning, The Pointer reported Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown has been inflating the level of testing his city has done by including tests from Etobicoke. At the same time, even with the greenlight to move into Stage 2, the city’s positive results have remained consistently high in the month of June.
“We have now tested more people in our hospital than anywhere else in the province, the number one testing hospital in Ontario is our very own William Osler Health System,” Brown says in a video posted to his Twitter account Friday.
On the video he released, as he utters those words, text flashes below the mayor: “52,000 Tests”.
But the figure and Brown’s claim are blatantly misleading. The number he is using was not for Brampton alone, but the total testing done by the William Osler Health System across its three screening sites, only one of which is in Brampton, while the other two are in Etobicoke.
In reality, Osler had only done about 9,000 tests in Brampton between March 11 and May 29, according to its director of public relations, Cara Francis.
For the week that ended Saturday, Brampton had 185 new cases, an average of 26 each day, while the prior week saw 163 new cases in the city, an average of 23 a day. The data shows Brampton’s new-case rate is not going in the right direction, making public health measures, and having residents follow them, particularly significant as more of the city begins to open up. Many Brampton residents have not shown themselves particularly agreeable to quarantine measures and physical distancing restrictions.
On June 17, Wards 3 and 4 Councillor Jeff Bowman said 22 charges were laid in Brampton over the past week for those breaking distancing rules.
“They include a charge for one non-essential business selling produce in a parking lot, one very large gathering at a residence, 13 charges related to individual, there were three of them, parking lot parties or gatherings and seven charges for a group of people who chose to play soccer in one of our parks.”
Crombie contended it was the “right decision” to keep her city in Stage 1, highlighting the fact the “virus knows no borders” once again.
Even with the welcome easing of some restrictions after three long months in the Region of Peel, the pandemic is far from over. New cases continue to be announced daily in the region and Stage 2 is not a return to normal.
The province’s current strategy specifies three stages, but the third does not represent a return to normal. The government’s documents state that Stage 3 will see measures relax, but “large public gatherings such as concerts and sporting events will continue to be restricted for the foreseeable future.”
In Peel, Brown and Crombie welcomed the news, but are urging businesses and residents to proceed with caution to avoid a backslide.
“This is the right decision and the right time for Mississauga to reopen our economy,” Crombie said in a message shared on Twitter. “While we celebrate this important milestone today, we must commit to keeping COVID-19 prevention top of mind and making it part of our daily lives.”
In preparation for shifting to Stage 2 of the province's reopening framework, the City of Mississauga has painted circles at Celebration Square to encourage physical distancing as more of the city begins to open up.
“The initial delay was the cautious and prudent approach. Public health says our #Covid_19 numbers are low enough to warrant this step,” Brown tweeted. “Remember to wear a mask & adhere to #PhysicalDistancing”
“This fight’s not over by any means,” Ford added.
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