KITCHENER -- COVID-19 vaccinations and continuing to follow public health measures will play a key role in ensuring Waterloo Region's reopening is successful, the area's top doctor says.

Speaking at the region's weekly COVID-19 briefing on Friday, Dr. Wang said more than 80 per cent of the eligible population aged 12 and older have now received at least one dose, and 55 per cent are fully vaccinated. She said the region now has some of the best vaccination coverage in all of Ontario.

"We now have to work together to safely reopen and stay open," Dr. Wang said. "We all have a role in this."

Waterloo Region joined the rest of Ontario in a move to Step 3 on Friday, which allows for larger indoor and outdoor social gatherings, indoor dining and indoor fitness classes. The area only went into Step 2 on Monday following concerns about spread of the Delta variant in the community.

Dr. Wang reminded people to stay home if they are feeling sick, and keep children home from camps and other activities if they are showing symptoms. People should also seek testing if they are not feeling well.

"Each of our daily actions can help us return to and enjoy everything our incredible community has to offer," Dr. Wang said.

CONTROLLING DELTA VARIANT

The Delta variant is still prevalent in the community and there will likely continue to be flareups in Waterloo Region, Dr. Wang said.

"We can reopen and limit the spread of the Delta variant if we continue to get vaccinated as soon as we are eligible and continue to practice public health measures diligently," she said.

Those measures include avoiding crowded indoor spaces, wearing masks, washing hands, maintaining physical distancing and continuing to limit close contacts. Officials also encouraged people to keep activities and gatherings outdoors as much as possible.

TRENDS IMPROVING

Locally, COVID-19 trends have improved over the last few days and weeks.

Dr. Wang said Waterloo Region's weekly incidence rate is at its lowest level since November 2020. Cases, active cases, and outbreaks continue to decline slowly, as do hospitalizations.

"The hospital system is more stabilized at this stage," said Patrick Gaskin, the president and CEO of Cambridge Memorial Hospital.

He said delaying the move into Step 2 had a large impact on local hospitals, which would have been "crushed" if reopening had happened too soon.

He echoed Dr. Wang's call to continue following all public health measures in order to slow the spread of the disease.

"We can very quickly turn the wrong direction," he said.

Gaskin said hospitals in the region are slowly ramping up other procedures and they hope to have updates on visitations in the coming weeks.

VACCINATION UPDATE

Waterloo Region now has some of the highest first dose coverage in the province, and has caught up with the rest of Ontario when it comes to second doses.

Bruce Lauckner, the region's chief administrative officer, said vaccine supply remains steady locally and clinics continue to operate at full capacity.

The hockey hub clinic at Bingemans, which vaccinated thousands of people last weekend and this week, will continue to operate for a few more days before the site transitions to new models, which will include drive-thru options.

The drive-thru will run from July 20 to 22 from 5 to 9 p.m. First doses are available for walk-ins, and second doses need appointments.

"Vaccination is key to our community reopening," Laucker said.

Lauckner and Dr. Wang said there is lots of availability for accelerated second doses and encouraged everyone who may have an appointment for later this summer to move up their dose if they can.

"We really need them to get vaccinated now," Lauckner said.

Lauckner added the vaccination task force is working on plans to help target the final 20 per cent of eligible population who hasn't yet been vaccinated. Officials are planning pop-up and mobile clinics, working with faith and community leaders, and considering offering vaccines at workplaces.

According to Dr. Wang, the vaccines will help the region control the disease through the next stages of reopening.

"We have to remain cautious, but we also have to remember we have the most control we've ever had to date on how our community does in the future," she said.

ONE TICKET ISSUED

Regional Chair Karen Redman only listed one enforcement action at Friday's briefing.

She said corporate security issued one $240 ticket in Cambridge to someone who wasn't wearing a face covering.

Redman added provincial inspectors came to the region this week to inspect 76 local businesses and provide education under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.