Premier Doug Ford announced another province-wide stay-at-home order on Wednesday afternoon.

The stay-at-home order, which will begin at 12:01 AM on Thursday, is to remain in place for four weeks, meaning it could end on May 6.

Piggy-backing onto the recently-announced measures related to the province's "emergency break," the stay-at-home order will close all non-essential retail outlets for in-person shopping other than grocery stores and pharmacies.

Ford said that the stay-at-home order mirrors the one Ontario underwent earlier this year. The order prohibits indoor social gatherings and outdoor gatherings with more than five people and, indeed, bans cottage rentals.

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Unlike the rules in place during a province-wide lockdown, wherein pre-booked vacation rentals are given a green light, a stay-at-home order means those who were planning to visit cottage country this weekend -- or any time in the next 28 days -- are no longer be permitted to do so.

READ: Month-Long Stay-at-Home Order Coming Into Effect in Ontario

"[This situation is] frustrating for people who are trying to get a bit of a break from the city, and it's frustrating for property owners who have offered up a place that people might safely escape to," Maryrose Coleman of both Muskoka District Rentals and Sotheby’s International tells STOREYS.

“I get it: it doesn’t make sense to have 10 people who don’t live together, who are unrelated, renting cottage for the weekend," Coleman says. But that isn't who her team has been catering to through these last several months.

“We’ve been very carefully screening people, so we’ve got a family with three children [coming], or four housemates who live together who are going to try to spend a little time outdoors, and try to stave off some of the COVID craziness that’s happening when you’re confined in the same four walls all the time. Those things do make sense."

Coleman emphasizes that cottage country is a particularly safe space for people to hunker down... especially when those individuals may live in a condo as their primary residence, where lobbies and shared elevators are commonplace.

"If you’re going to isolate, you can isolate safely in cottage country," she says.

News of the stay-at-home order comes less than a week after the Ford government pulled its "emergency break" in Ontario, enacting a "province-wide shutdown."

The emergency break shutdown included, but was not limited to:

  • Prohibiting indoor organized public events and social gatherings and limiting the capacity for outdoor organized public events or social gatherings to a 5-person maximum, except for gatherings with members of the same household (the people you live with) or gatherings of members of one household and one other person from another household who lives alone.
  • Restrictions on in-person shopping in all retail settings, including a 50% capacity limit for supermarkets, grocery stores, convenience stores, indoor farmers’ markets, other stores that primarily sell food and pharmacies, and 25% for all other retail including big box stores, along with other public health and workplace safety measures.
  • Prohibiting personal care services;
  • Prohibiting indoor and outdoor dining. Restaurants, bars and other food or drink establishments will be permitted to operate by take-out, drive-through, and delivery only.
  • Prohibiting the use of facilities for indoor or outdoor sports and recreational fitness (e.g., gyms) with very limited exceptions.

The newly-announced stay-at-home order will maintain the measures above, with the addition of all non-essential retail stores being mandated to offer curb-side pickup only; in-person driving instruction being prohibited, with few exceptions; cottage rentals being prohibited save for circumstances in which an individual is in need of housing; and more.

"At this point, I mostly feel badly for small businesses . . . the ones that really can’t function, like hair salons, people that are in the wedding industry, restaurants. It’s just a complete disaster. They’re getting ready to open up and suddenly they’re shut down again," Coleman says.

“It feels like there’s a lack of leadership," she goes on, adding: "What the heck was the 'emergency break'?"

(And Coleman's not the only one asking, as evidenced here, here, and here.)

Coleman also begs the question of how the new rules for cottage country visits are going to be enforced. She recalls last spring, when OPP officers would stop travellers on the highway to inquire about where they were coming from, and where they were headed.

"I don’t know how they’re going to do it, unless they actually do send the OPP out," she said.

READ: Muskoka Sees “Tightest Market Conditions in History”: CREA

While uncertainty hovers over all our heads, Coleman says she and her team are prepping for summer. To ready themselves for a time that will, no doubt, be exceptionally busy, Muskoka District Rentals is implementing supports like PPE, and fog machines that serve to literally clear property air between visits.

But those tools are for the future.

For now, it looks like eager would-be cottage-goers will, once again, need to hunker down at their home base and practice patience instead of hitting the road. All the while, the Muskoka District Rentals team -- and cottage-renters at large -- will work to get clear on the meanings behind messaging from governing bodies.

"Unfortunately the communications that come from the provincial government aren’t clear. When they put the ban on short-term rentals in place last year, it took us days to find the actual language that referenced that, to understand what they wanted us to do," Coleman explains.

"We have to filter through what’s coming from thoughtful medical professionals who are in the media, talking about what makes sense, and then these mixed messages from the government that we’re shut down... but we’re not shut down."

Coleman says ultimately, it would "be nice" for consistent messaging to be flowing from leadership, but it doesn't feel like that's the case.

"It’s crazy-making."