KITCHENER -- People in Waterloo Region and Wellington County are preparing for a new stay-at-home order to come into effect.

Starting Thursday at 12:01 a.m., people will need to stay at home unless they are going out for essential purposes, like going to the grocery store, pharmacy, accessing health-care services or essential work.

A decision on a return to the classroom for student is expected on or before Jan. 20. For now, they're expected to go back to school on Jan. 25.

"Teachers are planners, they want to know as far in advance as they can," said Patrick Etmanski, president of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers's Association in Waterloo. "This is another delay by the government to make us wait until down the road to find out what is going to happen."

The Waterloo Catholic District School Board said it's prepared for continuing remote learning or returning to the classroom.

"We have distributed 3,200 Chromebooks between Dec. 14 and Jan. 4, so we do feel that our students have the tools they need, should they need to continue learning remotely," a statement from the school board said in part.

Whenever classes do resume, there will be new safety measures in place.

"In terms of testing, it's going to be interesting to see how that rolls out," Etmanski said. "Teachers are wondering what their role is going to be in that."

Etmanski said meetings are underway to discuss the new measures and testing.

Back-to-school dates were delayed to Feb. 10 in COVID-19 hotspots like Toronto, York, Hamilton, Windsor-Essex and Peel.

Local and provincial police and bylaw officers can all enforce the stay-at-home order. Anyone caught violating it could face a fine and up to one year in jail.

"I know the actions we've announced today are difficult but they're absolutely necessary," Premier Doug Ford said.

The order comes after Ontario released its latest COVID-19 modelling on Tuesday, saying the number of deaths per day could double before the end of February.

Officials said the provincial health-care system will be overwhelmed if people don't significantly reduce their contacts.

The Region of Waterloo reported 154 new cases of the disease on Tuesday, bringing the total number of cases to date to 7,657.

With files from