KITCHENER -- The Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario is lobbying the province to delay reopening the economy.

The association wants to wait another three weeks. However, many areas, including Waterloo Region, will end the stay-at-home order on Feb. 16.

"Let's not gamble on overwhelming more and more," said RNAO CEO Dr. Doris Grinspun.

She said reopening communities could result in a third wave of COVID-19 and another lockdown.

Grinspun said the association is concerned about vaccine supplies and case counts higher than first wave peaks, along with an overworked health-care system.

"The health-care professionals, doctors and nurses, are absolutely exhausted," she said. "We cannot continue to simply pile up on them."

She said hotspots are most concerning, but Waterloo Region isn't immune.

"It's completely not out of the woods," Grinspun said.

Medical Officer of Health Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang said trends "continue to move in the right direction."

"I am supportive of a gradual and cautious approach to lifting current restrictions," a statement from Dr. Wang said in part.

Tracy van Kalsbeek with the Uptown Waterloo BIA said some of the 450 businesses in the are are struggling to stay afloat.

"Bottom line, dollars are running out," she said.

She said businesses will follow public health guidelines if they are allowed to reopen.

"The store is their baby and what they're passionate about," van Kalsbeek said. "They want the business to be open for the future."

It's not yet known which tier the region will fall into when it reopens.

Chris Bauch, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Waterloo, said gradual reopening could result in the disease travelling between communities.

"They can come to Kitchener or Waterloo for things like hair appointments, for dinner, and that's a concern," he said.

He said variants of concern also make reopening risky.

"But with the strain that is 50 per cent more transmissible, a lot of the same things that worked for the current variant will not work against the new strain," Bauch said.

The province said it's considering a range of criteria when deciding where to lift resections.

Officials pointed to plans for mandatory testing for international travellers, ramped up screening, funding for voluntary isolation sites and enhanced protection for vulnerable populations to help manage the spread of the disease.