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Ontario marks one year of COVID-19: here's what's happened so far

From an extended March Break to a second province-wide shutdown: a look back on the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic
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It's been one year since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11, 2020.

Since then, daily lives have been drastically changed over and over again. 

Here's a look at what COVID-19 has looked like in the province to date:


  • The World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic.
  • By March 14, Ontario had confirmed 103 cases of the virus.
  • On March 17 the province declared a state of emergency ordering the closure of bars, restaurants, theatres, libraries, and banning public events with more than 50 people. Schools had already been closed March 12 for what was originally a two-week March Break. Students did not return to school until the following school year. “Non-essential” businesses were ordered to close by March 24. Hospitals were ordered to stop non-emergency surgeries and procedures. The province-wide shutdown lasted until May 4 when the provincial government allowed some businesses to start reopening with a phased approach. 
  • The first COVID-19 related death in the province was reported at Barrie’s Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre. The man died on March 11. 
  • By March 31 the province had reported 1,966 cases of COVID-19 and 33 deaths.


  • Premier Doug Ford announced a $50 million ‘Ontario Together’ fund for businesses retooling their operations to manufacture essential medical supplies and equipment. 
  • The list of “essential” businesses was shortened and any construction, unless it was a critical project, was halted. Cannabis stores (excluding delivery and curbside pickup) were added to the list of now non-essential businesses, and that caused several lengthy lineups as customers tried to get their shopping done before the closures. 
  • The province released its first COVID-19 modelling data and scenarios, suggesting without public health measures in place, Ontario might have seen 300,000 cases and 6,000 deaths in the first month of the coronavirus’ spread. Modelling is now released multiple times every month.
  • Ford announced a one-time payment of $200 per child under 13 years old to families impacted by school and daycare closures.
  • An urgent call went out to recruit health care workers for frontline capacity at hospitals, clinics, and assessment centres.
  • Long-term care workers were prohibited from working in more than one home or health care settings
  • The April 20 modelling for Ontario predicted that the COVID-19 outbreak had "likely peaked."
  • Ford announced pandemic pay for frontline staff, promising an extra $4/hour on top of regular wages
  • At the end of the month, the province released its first of many iterations of a reopening framework, this one including three “stages” of opening. 


  • Ontario entered Stage 1 of the provincial reopening plan, which allowed drive-in religious gatherings, reopening of some outdoor recreational amenities. Golf courses reopened, as did marinas, public boat launches and private parks and campgrounds. Some in-store shopping also resumed with new restrictions.
  • The Canadian Armed Forces released a report on their findings of long-term care homes, with scathing observations of the conditions of some homes and poor treatment of residents.


  • Ontario entered Stage 2 of the reopening plan, allowing public gatherings of up to 10 people, reopening restaurant patios, shopping malls, hair salons, places of worship, and pools.  
  • Family visits resumed for some long-term care and retirement homes. 
  • Social circles or “bubbles” were first introduced. The province recommended no more than 10 people for each circle and each member should be exclusive to one bubble. 


  • Most of Ontario entered Stage 3. Indoor gatherings were limited to 50 people, and outdoor gatherings of up 100 people with physical distancing were introduced. These rules are still in effect. Indoor dining was allowed again, and gyms reopened. Playgrounds were also reopened. Dancing, buffets, overnight children’s camps, and amusement parks still aren't allowed. The provincial emergency order was also lifted with new legislation in place allowing emergency orders to remain for the year without the state of emergency.
  • Ontario announced that students would return to class for in-person learning in September. Families could also still opt for distance learning.
  • The province launched an independent commission into COVID-19 and long-term care, calling for an investigation into how COVID-19 spread within long-term care homes, and the adequacy of measures to prevent, isolate and contain the virus.
  • The month ended with the announcement of the COVID Alert smartphone app, meant to provide alerts when people have been exposed to cases of COVID.


  • Municipalities were promised $1.6 billion in funding in what became one of three rounds so far of provincial funding to offset municipal costs related to the pandemic.
  • More gym spaces and recreation centres were permitted to open with the capacity capped at 50 people for each indoor sport or fitness room.
  • The province released its plan to manage COVID-19 in schools two weeks before students are scheduled to return to the classroom.


  • After a spike in new confirmed cases, Ontario's health minister announced public health measures wouldn't be loosened for at least a month to try and limit the community transmission of the virus.
  • The government’s online screening tool first made an appearance to help parents, students, and staff with a daily assessment of COVID-19. At the time it was voluntary, now it’s required.
  • The province put a limit on “unmonitored private social gatherings” of 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors. The limits were previously 50 and 100 respectively. Ford claimed it was a deterrent for the “wild parties out there.”
  • COVID-19 testing expanded to pharmacies.


  • Ottawa, Peel and Toronto regions were the first to be moved back into “stage 2” of the province’s restrictions because of higher than average rates of transmission.
  • Ford urged people to spend Thanksgiving with immediate household members only. Social bubbles were eliminated.


  • The first version of the colour-coded COVID-19 Response Framework was unveilled with all 34 health unit regions in orange, yellow or green zone restrictions. Soon after its release, the province lowered the thresholds for each zone. Hamilton, Halton, Toronto and York were the first regions to enter the red zone. By the end of the month, Toronto and Peel were in the grey-lockdown zone.
  • Ontarians marked Remembrance Day largely without public, in-person cenotaph services. 
  • The COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Task Force was born with retired chief of defence, Rick Hillier, at the head of it. 
  • Ontario started deploying rapid tests to high-transmission areas and rural and remote areas as well as to long-term care homes and select workplaces. 


  • Health Canada approved the Moderna and the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines for use in Canada. 
  • Ontario began revealing priority groups for vaccine distribution as it prepared to receive doses from the federal government. The rollout began with long-term care and retirement home residents and the staff caring for them. Phase one of the plan started Dec. 15.  The first vaccine doses given in Ontario were Pfizer, followed by Moderna. 
  • Ontarians were urged to celebrate Christmas at home with only household members. 
  • The premier declared Santa Claus an essential service.
  • The month ended with an Ontario-wide shutdown on Dec. 26, which lasted into February and was more strict than the previously established grey-lockdown restrictions. The shutdown was accompanied by a stay-at-home order requiring people to avoid leaving their homes except for essential purposes. Most businesses were closed except for curbside pickup, grocery stores and pharmacies are permitted. 
  • Schools were closed for in-class learning well past Christmas break with all classes conducted online. Schools started to open in different regions in late January and early February.


  • The province declared its second state of emergency because of the COVID-19 pandemic, this time because of the “looming threat of the collapse of the province’s hospital system.”
  • The federal government announced shipment delays for the Pfizer and later the Moderna vaccine supply. 
  • More transmissible variant strains were discovered in Ontario cases and the province released a six-point plan to deal with variant strains, including mandatory testing of travellers and stricter self-isolation requirements for close contacts. 


  • The province pulled out its colour-coded response framework again, lifting the shutdown and stay-at-home orders slowly, region by region starting with Northern Ontario. Each health unit was placed in green, yellow, orange, red, or grey-lockdown restrictions according to the framework. The updated framework allows some in-person shopping at retail stores even where the region is in the grey-lockdown zone. An “emergency brake” was also added to allow the province, in consultation with the region’s medical officer of health, to switch a region into lockdown. 
  • Students across Ontario returned to in-person learning, starting in Northern Ontario in January and ending with Toronto/GTA schools. 
  • The AstraZeneca vaccine was approved by Health Canada. AstraZeneca is now being distributed in Ontario alongside Pfizer and Moderna. 


  • Health Canada approved the Johnson and Johnson vaccine for use in Canada. It's the first single-dose vaccine approved for use in the nation.
  • Ontario has now reached one million doses of vaccines delivered. Three of the four vaccines approved for use in Canada require two doses to be fully vaccinated.
  • The colour-coded framework is still in place with regions assigned to each zone based on several metrics including case counts, outbreaks, health system capacity, and public health contact tracing capacity.
  • As of March 11, 2021, Public Health Ontario had confirmed 313,520 cases of COVID-19, with 295,128 recoveries, and 7,109 deaths. To date, 15,747 people have been hospitalized with 2,812 of those patients admitted to intensive care units. Provincial labs have processed 11.58 million COVID tests, and 281,714 people have been fully vaccinated (with two doses). 

By the numbers

The following chart shows a breakdown of cases, deaths, and tests reported by Public Health Ontario each month for the last year.

Figures include only those reported that month and are non-cumulative

Month Cases confirmed Deaths reported Tests processed
Mar. 2020 1,966 33 50,624
Apr. 2020 15,105 1,049 226,898
May 2020 11,672 1,184 440,819
Jun. 2020 7,209 406 688,984
Jul. 2020 4,141 103 764,647
Aug. 2020 3,100 36 794,371
Sept. 2020 9,401 37 957,122
Oct. 2020 24,020 288 1,186,462
Nov. 2020 40,762 520 1,164,989
Dec. 2020 65,667 874 1,647,142
Jan. 2021 86,211 1,638 1,751,459
Feb. 2021 32,605 792 1,371,636


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Erika Engel

About the Author: Erika Engel

Erika regularly covers all things news in Collingwood as a reporter and editor. She has 15 years of experience as a local journalist
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