OTTAWA -- The top doctor in the Eastern Ontario Health Unit is recommending Ontario's stay-at-home order be extended for another two weeks.

Speaking on CTV Morning Live, Medical Officer of Health Dr. Paul Roumeliotis says he believes the stay-at-home order, set to expire on May 20, should be pushed back to buy the province much needed time to ensure there are no other lockdowns.

"We're going in the right direction with our numbers but we're still pretty high," Roumeliotis said, noting that while case counts have been dropping, there are still more than 800 COVID-19 patients in intensive care across the province.

"I don't think we'll be in a position to stop the lockdown … I would recommend an extension for at least a couple of weeks, through the May 24 weekend because the lower we are when we reopen, the better it will be because we want to make this the last lockdown we have."

Roumeliotis said that in addition to giving the province time to lower cases and treat patients in hospital, an extended lockdown would also give health units more time to vaccinate more residents.

"We're close to 50 per cent; we'll be 60 to 70 per cent very soon in Ontario and that gives us an opportunity to be able to open up in a way that will be irreversible. I think it's worth the extra two weeks to ensure we're going in the right direction and don't have to return to lockdown," he said.

According to provincial figures, 6,238,778 doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered province-wide as of 8 p.m. Sunday, and 393,884 people are considered fully vaccinated with two doses. Ontario has a population of more than 14.5 million people.

Vaccination appointments through the provincial portal will open to more essential workers on Tuesday and to residents 40 and older on Thursday. By the end of May, Ontario expects to be able to offer vaccines to anyone over the age of 18.

Public Health Ontario reports 1,632 people in Ontario hospitals with COVID-19 including 767 in ICU who are testing positive. There are also 61 people in ICUs with COVID-related critical illnesses who are no longer testing positive for COVID-19. The number of total hospitalizations in Ontario peaked on April 20 with 2,360 COVID-19 patients. ICU patients testing positive peaked May 1, at 828.

On Monday, Ontario reported 2,716 new cases of COVID-19. The province's weekly average has been falling since late April and is now at 3,017 cases, down from a peak of 4,370 on April 17.

Slow reopening to start

Roumeliotis says the next reopening should progress slowly, offering more options as case counts decline, vaccination rates rise and the weather improves.

"Initially outdoor activities, progressively to indoor activities and into the July and August months will we get more opening," he said. "As (the vaccine rate) goes up, the more we'll be opening. I know that, in the fall, we'll be in a much better place than we were last fall."

Last year, Ontario's second and third phases of reopening following the first wave took place gradually between the months of June and August and used a regional approach based on each public health region's situation. 

Is the school year a write-off?

On Monday, elementary schools reopened in Gatineau and the rest of the Outaouais region of Quebec, and some Quebec high schools returned to in-person classes. In Ontario, schools remain closed.

Roumeliotis says the situation in Ontario is being evaluated week by week, but he does believe students should see the inside of a classroom again before the summer.

"We think it's important to take a good look, a separate look at the schools," he said. "I think there is a possibility they will reopen before June. We're just looking at that. I can't guarantee it, but we're in discussion right now because we think that kids need to go back to school."

He said it depends on the capacity of each individual health unit to follow up and contact trace cases of COVID-19 in children. As case numbers rise, contact tracing efforts become severely strained.

"Now, the numbers are going down to a more manageable level in our area and many other areas of Ontario so it looks good that we're going to re-evaluate it, so I can't rule out that schools won't open within the next couple of weeks," he said.