Recreational amenities could reopen before stay-at-home order expires: health minister

Health Minister Christine Elliott says that her government will reopen recreational amenities “on or before June 2” when the current stay-at-home order is set to expire.

The Ford government decided to close all recreational amenities back on April 16 amid a devastating third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The decision upset a number of epidemiologists and public experts who have consistently argued that the risk of contracting COVID-19 outdoors is extremely low.


It also came despite advice from Ontario’s Science Advisory Table warning that any policies that discourage outdoor activities will do little to control the spread of COVID-19 while having a disproportionate effect on children.

Speaking during Question Period at Queen’s Park on Monday, Elliott said that her government believes it would be “irresponsible” to reopen recreational amenities today with case counts still high but she also gave the clearest indication to date that some recreational amenities will soon reopen, perhaps even prior to the expiry of the current stay-at-home order.

“Today is not the day to open everything up. I believe that it would be irresponsible for us to do that today. But we are following the evidence on a daily basis and it will happen on or before June 2,” she said.

Premier Doug Ford has defended the closure of recreational amenities as a way to reduce mobility and discourage people from leaving their homes for non-essential purposes.

But others have argued that the closures have done more harm than good.

During a briefing on Monday afternoon, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams acknowledged that there is no data suggesting that outdoor amenities were contributing to the spread of COVID-19 largely because they have been shuttered for most of the spring.

He added that he is “optimistic” that some recreational amenities can be reopened safely and believes that there could be “some news” on that front in the “near future.”

“We know people are eager to get out and do as much outdoor activity as possible. We would like that as well; we just want it done safely. I don’t want to see any cases accrued from golf courses tennis courts or other things and I think with the proper steps we can have a good safe entry into summer,” he said.


Researchers call for reopening of outdoor spaces for children

Elliott’s comments on Monday come in the wake of a new report from a group of researchers that calls on the Ford government to immediately “prioritize outdoors activities for children and youth” in order to help mitigate some of the “devastating” impacts that pandemic-related restrictions have had on their health and well being.

The report, prepared by researchers at The Hospital for Sick Children, the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work at the University of Toronto and Native Child and Family Services Toronto, argues that the pandemic has had a “dramatic effect” on the physical and mental health of children as it has deprived them of “important social, emotional and physical interactions.”

The report says that while “structured physical activity” in schools and other organized settings would be ideal, there is also value in allowing children to participate in unstructured recreational activities in small groups so long as they able to practice physical distancing.

“The science is clear that the risk of outdoor transmission of COVID-19 is substantially lower than indoor transmission, especially with appropriate distancing and personal protective equipment (PPE). Therefore, there is an urgent need to prioritize outdoor activities for children and youth to begin to mitigate the devastating and inequitable effects of pandemic-related restrictions on their health and well-being, and to support an active recovery for children, youth and their families,” the researchers say.


The researchers say that their report should serve as a “call to action” with the goal being to “facilitate increased activity levels among children and youth during and after the pandemic, with a focus on outdoor activity.”

They make dozens of recommendations in total but the key ones include “restarting and expanding organized sports and activities and outdoor community camps” and reopening recreational amenities, including sports fields, pools and camping spaces.

“We've seen such, such negative impact during the pandemic on children's health and well being and their parents and we really want people to get outside and interact in a safe way,” Dr. Catherine Birken, the principal author of the study, told CP24. “Social isolation has been the number one driver of mental health problems so we really feel children should be outdoors and active.”

Premier Doug Ford did indicate to reporters over the weekend that summer camps would be permitted to open this year, though he did not provide any additional details. He also did not specify whether that will include overnight camps or just day camps.