May 2-4 (a.k.a. Victoria Day) weekend is the queen of all the long weekends.
Last May, things were closed up tighter than the knots on a tree throughout Ontario. It made some sense: the experts still weren’t certain what—if any—outdoor recreation activities could be done safely.
But even a year ago Ontarians were restless and becoming fatigued by revolving lockdowns. People, mostly younger people, went rogue and we grown-ups tsk-tsked daily at photos of kids gone wild in public parks in the city and on the beaches in various stretches of cottage country. In small-town newspapers across the country residents worried about the effect of cottage owners and day-trippers coming into ‘their’ areas.
A few days ago, Toronto’s Board of Health voted to request that the Ontario government reopen recreation amenities, which had been long closed, as long as it was in a way that ran parallel to stringent safety measures.
It was denied. As Toronto’s medical officer of health observed, “When we look at COVID case reports following long weekends and holidays it’s quite clear that the more contact and the more interaction there is, then you can absolutely expect that in the days following there will be increased cases reported in respect of COVID-19.”
She’s not wrong. Ontarians have repeatedly demonstrated that when it comes to long weekends and traditional family holidays, people gather and cases blow up. We don’t have to guess if that happens; the data clearly shows the correlation between Easter, Family Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and long weekends with a spike in cases.
Anecdotally, I’ll bet that we all know of those who haven’t seen elderly parents or kids and grandkids in over a year. At the same time we likely know those who’ve pretty much lived life as normal and have continued to host and attend big or biggish family events or have a bubble so big as to be meaningless. That’s not going to change. In places where people have lots of space and low case counts they’ve largely emerged unscathed. And in regions where case counts are high and people live in crowded conditions and have jobs in over-crowded manufacturing, packing, or distribution facilities, the same behaviour results in sickness and death.
Those private gathering behaviours may arise from the feeling of being ‘under the radar’ even if you know it’s not actually safe. But at least it is something to do and one is more likely to escape scrutiny or consequences.
If families are going to visit—and experience has shown that they are—isn’t it better to offer rule-benders a better and safer way to do it? I think it’s called the great outdoors.
Maybe it’s time to try something new. We know much more now than we did a year ago. We know that aerosols and close and prolonged contact with an infected person and poor ventilation are more impactful than originally known. We know that touch surfaces are less of an issue so most of us feel safe to forgo the disinfecting of all grocery packaging and the door knob every time we touch it.
And because of what we’ve learned from science in a year or more, we know that the outdoors is pretty much as safe as it gets during COVID when just a few precautions are followed. Golf, tennis, pickle ball, soccer—and the places that make them possible, like parks and playgrounds—should be opened well before Victoria Day is upon us.
Not only should outdoor recreation be allowed, it should be encouraged. I feel for all levels of government in dealing with this novel virus. It’s been monumentally difficult and governments are going to rise and fall based on the handling or perception of the handling of the pandemic. I don’t like contributing to the blame game but the province and the federal government seem to have consistently gone after the wrong thing when confronting the spread of the virus, but that’s a conversation for another day. Ontario has the opportunity right now to put focus on the positive and reasonable action of opening up every outdoor facility in the province.
Just maybe it will give an outlet to those who’ve been cooped up and prevent—or at least lessen—other more potentially problematic activities like close-contact indoor massing with friends and families.
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