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Capacity limits are out, but masks will stay on after Step 3 of Ontario's reopening

TORONTO — Ontario won't lift its mask mandate in the next phase of reopening, the province announced Friday, even as it plans to drop most other public health measures meant to curb the spread of COVID-19.

There's still no date for when the province will move to what it calls the "Exit Step" of its "Roadmap to Reopening," but the government said it's giving residents and businesses a sense of what's to come.

"As the Delta variant is the dominant strain in Ontario, which is not the case with some other provinces, face coverings will also continue to be required for indoor public settings. This is consistent with other jurisdictions such as Quebec and Israel," said a spokeswoman for Health Minister Christine Elliott.

Alexandra Hilkene said the chief medical officer of health would continuously evaluate the need for masks.

The exit step will, however, ditch capacity limits indoors, which business groups have said seriously hamper profits.

The province has introduced a new exception for the mask mandate that will come into effect once the province moves into the exit stage: people who are attending sex clubs or bathhouses will not need to wear face coverings "while participating in the activities for which patrons normally frequent such an establishment."

Some other public health restrictions are staying in place.

Companies must continue "passive screening" for COVID-19, for example by having signs posted, according to the guidelines.

They must also keep a safety plan in place that details how they will follow existing public health protocols.

The province announced Thursday that 80 per cent of residents aged 12 and older have now received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, meaning one of three conditions the province has set for moving beyond Step 3 of its reopening plan has been met.

In order to move out of Step 3, the government has also said 75 per cent of people 12 and older must have received their second dose, and all public health units must have 70 per cent of eligible people fully vaccinated.

If vaccination targets are met and health indicators are stable after three weeks in Step 3, restrictions could roll back further, making Aug. 6 the earliest possible date for the change.

The government announced the new rules as Ontario reported 226 new cases of COVID-19 and 11 more deaths.

That's the highest daily death toll since July 1, when the province recorded 19 fatalities linked to the virus.

Elliott said 62 of the new cases are in Toronto, 35 were in Waterloo Region, and 24 were in Peel. She said the numbers come from nearly 21,000 tests.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 30, 2021.

Nicole Thompson, The Canadian Press

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