Peel Region’s top public health official says that he is growing increasingly concerned that the province’s plans to restart the economy may be “out of step” with the risk still posed by COVID-19 in his community.

Peel Region Medical Officer of Health Dr. Lawrence Loh made the comment during a weekly briefing at Brampton City Hall on Wednesday.

He said that while the number of new cases of COVID-19 has been on the decline in Ontario as a whole, they have remained stubbornly high in Peel Region.

He said that over the last week about 20 per cent of all new cases in Ontario have been reported in Peel despite the region only having about 10 per cent of the province’s population.

He said that Brampton has also seen its number of new cases in recent days “mirror” the number of new cases it was seeing before the province ordered the closure of non-essential businesses in March, something that he said is a concern as the province proceeds with phase one of its reopening plan.

“There is a pandemic picture in our community which we are starting to bring under control but also speaks to a continuing risk and there is also a reopening picture as restrictions get loosened and I am concerned that those two pictures are starting to look out of step for us in Brampton and here in Peel Region,” he said. “We have seen our new cases starting to plateau but we have just not seen a decline in line with the province’s own framework for reopening at this point.”

There have been 3,711 confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 in Peel Region with those cases resulting in 229 deaths so far.

While the number of new cases reported each day has dropped off since a record 190 were reported on April 18, they have held mostly steady in the 50 to 100 new cases a day range for weeks.

Loh said that when the province began gradually reopening the retail sector, first with garden centres and hardware stores and now with other stores, it essentially “opened the whole community that moves around” the sector.

He said that, in turn, may have contributed to “a bolstering effect” in terms of the number of new cases in Peel Region.

For that reason, Loh is recommending that the region take a “cautious” approach to reopening.

He said that sports fields should remain closed until at least May 25, even though they are now permitted to reopen by the province.

As well, Brampton has decided that it will not reopen its dog parks, as has been done in other municipalities, including Toronto.

“I know people want to get out there but let’s not forget this virus moves and thrives on crowds and interactions which will come as more of the community reopens,” Loh said. “I believe we will see a sustained decrease in new cases if we keep going but we need to hold tight for the time being.”

‘We are not going to be able to return as fast in Peel Region’

The province’s framework for reopening calls for it to proceed to the next phase, which is expected to include child care facilities, in two to four weeks.

Some GTA mayors, however, have expressed concerns about whether the number of new cases will decline to levels that will allow for a wider reopening in June.

For his part, Premier Doug Ford has promised to let the numbers dictate when it will be time to move to Phase Two, though he has not said where those numbers need to be.

Ford has also acknowledged that the risk posed by COVID-19 varies significantly from community to community and has promised to respect the wishes of local mayors.

“In some part of the province there really has been a decline in COVID and it may even seem like there is no sign of it but that is not case in the GTA and it is not the case in Peel Region,” Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown said at Wednesday’s briefing. “So as much as the province is giving permission to have a gradual return to normal we are not going to be able to return as fast in Peel Region because we have to put public health first.”

Brown said that while the transmission of COVID-19 within Brampton has begun to wane, “we haven’t fully flattened the curve” and are “still seeing growth.”

Brampton has had a total of 1,743 confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 and accounts for nearly half of all cases (47 per cent) in Peel Region.

“For those eager to get on the baseball diamonds or eager to play soccer we are just not there yet,” Brown said in explaining his decision not to reopen sports fields. “We have to see the curve flatten.”