GRAND BEND, ONT. -- Lambton County has been given the go-ahead to move to stage two of Ontario's pandemic reopening plan, starting on Friday.

Premier Doug Ford made the announcement at his Monday news conference, and it's music to the ears of businesses in the struggling beach town of Grand Bend, Ont.

The Growling Gator and Willie's Beach Bar, owned by the Sam Karamoutzos, have suffered record low sales, despite this being the warmest May and June in recent memory.

"It's been a great season for weather, frustrating that we can't open, takeout is pretty slow, " says Kate Wuytenburg, manager of the Growling Gator.

However she started getting the patio ready Monday after Ford made his announcement.

"We were frustrated last weekend but now we are looking forward to seeing everyone out this weekend," says Wuytenburg.

Less than a kilometre away is the line which separates Huron County and Lambton County. Just steps to the Nnorth side of that barrier is Oakwood Resort.

"We've been able to be in phase two for a little bit and we are thankful for that," says Shannon Scatcherd, who co-owns the resort and golf destination with her husband.

Monday, while bars on the strip were closed, golfers were able to have a drink after their round on the patio.

Tim Graham is from Grand Bend, and had to cross county lines to get a beer.

"It was a long haul too.. I'll tell you that," Graham joked about his five-minute drive. "However, seriously, there is lots of people that would like to be doing this right now in Lambton County."

Oakwood owner Colin Scatcherd was busy Monday answering phones, helping golfers and sanitizing carts to make sure he was abiding by COVID-19 rules.

He was thrilled to be open, but stressed it's unfortunate for those in the neighbouring county to be a week behind them.

"You feel for other side," Colin says. "A lot of business that depends on these summer days, and once they are gone you can't get them back. Hopefully we'll be able to resume everything soon. "

Lambton County Warden Bill Weber took to Twitter Monday to announce the jump to the next phase, saying it will be great news for businesses.

He said it will allow them to open patio service and get a haircut.

Shannon says they have started to resume renting rooms at the resort, but the trick is to manage everything safely.

It's really difficult when the weather approaches 30C and people want to be back outside.

"We just want all of Grand Bend to be open, and get back to somewhat normal," says Shannon.

That sense of normalcy could begin as early as Friday, with the beach tentatively planned to open three days later.

"We are working on preparing beach and getting it ready, with a goal of June 22," says Weber.

"That could change though as we want to open with washrooms. However this is good news going forward, and we want everyone to be safe."

Norfolk County also gets go-ahead

Norfolk and Haldimand counties, also previously excluded from moving to phase two of reopening, got the go-ahead from Ontario's premier and health officials on Monday.

That means Windsor-Essex, Toronto and Peel Region, just west of Toronto, are now the only regions in the province that remain in the first stage or reopening.

As of Friday, businesses and amenities that can now reopen in those areas include:

  • Outdoor dine-in services at restaurants, bars and other establishments, including patios, curbside, parking lots and adjacent properties
  • Daycares, with limits on the number of children at each facility
  • Select personal and personal care services, including tattoo parlours, barber shops, hair salons and beauty salon
  • Shopping malls under existing restrictions, including food services reopening for take-out and outdoor dining only
  • Tour and guide services, such as bike and walking, bus and boat tours, as well as tasting and tours for wineries, breweries and distilleries
  • Water recreational facilities, such as outdoor splash pads and wading pools, and all swimming pools
  • Beach access and additional camping at Ontario Parks
  • Camping at private campgrounds
  • Outdoor-only recreational facilities and training for outdoor team sports, with limits to enable physical distancing
  • Drive-in and drive-through venues for theatres, concerts, animal attractions and cultural appreciation, such as art installations
  • Film and television production activities, with limits to enable physical distancing

There had been concerns, as neighbouring counties reopened, that residents still in the first stages of reopening would travel for the amenities.

Ford added in a statement, "I am hopeful all regions of Ontario will enter Stage 2 very soon. But we must remain on our guard to prevent any potential surge or secondary wave by continuing to follow the sound advice of our public health officials."

People are still encouraged to be cautious, as health officials continue to monitor the situation and could advise public health restrictions be loosened - or be tightened again.