UPDATE: On April 1, the Ford government announced that Ontario will go into a four-week province-wide shutdown starting April 3, as a means to control rising COVID-19 numbers. Similar to the modified grey zone regions like Toronto and Peel have been in since the beginning of March, this new shutdown tier allows essential retailers to operate at 50% capacity, while non-essential retailers operate at 25%. This announcement also means that — just days after they were told they could reopen on April 12 in Toronto and Peel region — all personal care services, including nail salons, barbers, and hair dressers, as well as gyms, must close.
Original story, published on February 10, 2021, follows
The year 2020 may finally be over, but — unfortunately — the COVID-19 pandemic is far from it. (There’s a reason people are calling 2021, “2020 with bangs.”) A month into the new year, provinces across Canada are still in varying levels of closure: Quebec’s curfew remains even though it’s allowed all non-essential businesses to reopen, and Alberta is slowly allowing restaurants and stores to start serving customers again, as is one of the hardest-hit provinces, Ontario.
Ontario has been in a state of emergency since January 14 in order to decrease scarily rising COVID numbers. But as of February 10, that emergency expires, and, for certain regions, the province-wide stay-at-home order will end: Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox and Addington Public Health, Hasting Prince Edward Public Health, and Renfrew County and District Health Unit will be moving back into the green zone. (More on the province’s kinda-confusing colour-coded zone system below.) The rest of the province will open slowly in the next few weeks.
What does the end of Ontario’s state of emergency mean for me and my split ends?
TBH, not much has changed for Ontarians who don’t live in the aforementioned green zones. (Sorry.) While the state of emergency officially expired February 10, meaning we now can’t be fined for leaving our homes for reasons other than work, walking the dog or trips to the grocery store and pharmacy, it’s business as usual, or should I say, no business as usual for most residents: The stay-at-home order will remain in effect in Toronto, Peel Region, and York Region until at least February 22, and in all other parts of the province outside the green zone until February 16.
So the GTA is still completely closed?
For now. One interesting update? Once-stay-at-home orders are lifted, non-essential retail businesses in grey (lockdown) areas can reopen for in-person shopping at 25% capacity in order to “support the province’s economic recovery.” When that will happen is another question: In Toronto, for example, the province hasn't given word on when the city will move out of shutdown into the grey zone, thus allowing non-essential stores to open, according to Carleton Grant, executive director of municipal licensing and standards with the City of Toronto.
How does the province decide which colour zone a region is in?
The leap from stay-at-home to a green zone doesn’t come out of nowhere. Whether an area moves into the province’s colour-coded framework (which encompass green, yellow, orange, and red zones) is decided based on a myriad of factors, including the weekly incidence rate (number of cases per 100,000 people), test positivity rate, and hospital and ICU capacity in that particular area.
I live in a green zone, what exactly is open?
Regions in the green zone are as close to the before COVID times as the province is able to safely get. While buffets remain closed (sorry, Mandarin!), restaurants, bars, and cafes can open for indoor dining with social-distancing measures in place), meaning you can once again have the titillating thrill of dining outside of your kitchen — with contract tracing in place and the caveat that you rock a face mask when not at your table, of course. In this stage, gyms are also able to open with a maximum capacity of 50 people, meaning you and 49 of your closest friends can pump some iron together. And for anyone who’s thinking about potentially trying to host their delayed summer wedding, it’s important to note that meeting and event spaces in this colour code have capacity limits in place. (Which, FYI, is 50 people for indoor venues and 100 for anything hosted outdoors.)
What about hair salons?
Yes, in the green zone, starting February 10, your hairdresser is open for business so you can finally get those curtain bangs everyone’s been talking about. If you currently live in a region that’s still operating under stay-at-home orders, you’ll have to wait just a little longer. But, probably not as long as you might think. Salons and barbers are allowed to remain open in *all* colour-coded zones as long as patrons don’t remove their masks (which is why visiting your facialist or eyebrow lady is still out of the question), meaning that, should the remaining health units stay-at-home orders lift on February 16 and 22 as expected, you can count on a date with your stylist and some dye ASAP. That is, if you can get an appointment.
My roots will be happy, but is opening up the province actually a good idea?
Depends on who you ask. “I’m very nervous about it,” says Dr. Jeff Kwong, a health issues scientist and professor at the University of Toronto's Dalla Lana School of Public Health, of the government’s plan to ease restrictions. Despite the fact that case counts are lower in some areas of the province, Kwong emphasizes that these case numbers are not actually *that* low, relatively speaking (they are just lower than they were before lockdown). And, with the ongoing spread of the new British and South African variants, he worries that reopening non-essential businesses — and effectively forcing people to go back to work in non-essential roles — will lead to an increased risk of transmission. “It's the risk of one employee infecting another employee, and then bringing it to their household, and then, potentially, their kids bring it into the schools.”
Another issue, Kwong says, is that the new retail guidelines — especially in grey lockdown zones — put all responsibility on the individual to keep themselves, and those around them, safe. Which can be difficult to do with all of the mixed messaging Ontarians are getting. “If the message says that stores are open again, people say, ‘that means I can go to the store, I can go hang out with my friends,’” he says. “What worries me is that anytime you're not wearing a mask and you're around other people, you could be getting the infection or giving it to somebody else. And we know there's a lot of people who are infected and who have no symptoms, and they're the ones that we know spreading COVID.”
“My guess is that we're going to be needing another lockdown within the next month or two,” he adds. So, as much as you may be hankering to run your hands through the candle aisle at HomeSense, for now it's best to just stay at home.
Correction: This story originally reported that non-essential retail stores in lockdown areas can operate at 25% capacity as of Feb. 10.