Walkers, rejoice! City of St. John's parks reopen for strolls on Monday
Grand Falls-Windsor, Bishop's Falls also reopening parks
The caution tape is coming off city parks in St. John's, and other communities across the province, for people to walk through but don't get too excited — playgrounds remain closed due to COVID-19.
"COVID-19 advisory signage will be posted at entrances and throughout parks and physical barriers have been installed restricting access to certain park features, such as playgrounds," the city said in a press release Thursday afternoon.
The city said community gardens can operate effective immediately, with restrictions posted at the sites.
Parks and recreational facilities across Newfoundland and Labrador were closed to the public weeks ago to reduce the spread of the virus. But as the province plans to enter Alert Level 4 of its pandemic reopening strategy Monday, St. John's is loosening restrictions accordingly on that same day.
In terms of operations allowed at parks, unidirectional travel signs will be posted on trails that don't have enough space for two metres or six feet of physical distance between walkers and cyclists, as per public health guidelines.
"It's imperative that we have access to outdoors and have healthy, safe, but socially distant kind of rules and regulations," Deputy Mayor Sheilagh O'Leary told CBC Radio's On The Go.
"But the reality is if people don't actually go along with what the province is advising, then we may have to look at closing the parks again."
Walkers have been permitted to use some more open spaces in the city, like the trail around Quidi Vidi Lake, provided they follow a clockwise pattern to allow safe physical distancing.
Gatherings of 10 or more people are not allowed, garbage cans will be emptied, dogs can be walked under the usual rules of keeping them on leashes and picking up their waste. Outdoor washrooms will be open and serviced each morning and mid-afternoon, with their hours of operation posted on site. O'Leary said to keep physical distancing measures in mind when using park washrooms.
O'Leary said the city doesn't have the ability to fine people for non-compliance with park rules, though city staff will be in the parks to monitor.
Other communities letting people back into parks, too
Some parks and walking trails in Grand Falls-Windsor are set to reopen Friday, and the boardwalk in neighbouring Bishop's Falls opened up last week.
Both municipalities are putting up signs to remind residents to practice physical distancing, and Bishop's Falls has limited its boardwalk to one-direction strolling.
"Nothing's been reported up to this point, and I must say 'thank you' to our residents here in Bishop's Falls because we haven't had any cases that's been brought to my attention where people have not been coherent to the rules," said Mayor Bryan King.
In Grand Falls-Windsor, Mayor Barry Manuel warned that his municipality would not hesitate to close facilities again, if there are any issues.
Courts, playgrounds still not open for play
A number of municipal operations will stay closed, however, and are excluded from this phase of lifting COVID-19 restrictions in the province.
Community centres, playgrounds, tennis and basketball courts, skate parks, outdoor sports facilities, pools, splash pads and beaches are still closed.
With golf courses allowed to open, the chief medical officer of health was asked Thursday what's different about tennis.
"In golf ... you bring your own clubs, you use your own equipment, you can stay separated. With tennis, there is some sharing of equipment and certainly of the ball. So there is a little bit more concern with regard to possible transmission," said Dr. Janice Fitzgerald.
It's not clear, however, why people within their own bubble, or a double bubble, couldn't play with each other."
Both informal and regulated sports activities that require contact, including all team sports like softball at city pitches, continue to be prohibited.
The city's public services are cancelled, which includes community events, interpretation services, children's programming and community-based programming. O'Leary said the city will and see if it's safe, based on the province's orders, before opening splash pads and city pools.
You can't buy any drinks or snacks in parks, nor can you enjoy a picnic, as tables will be wrapped in caution tape and any portable ones will be taken away. O'Leary said you cannot set up a picnic blanket on the grass, an effort to reduce gatherings and congestion.
No feeding the ducks either — Bowring Park duck pond remains closed as well.
"We are basically relying upon the common sense from the public, knowing how serious this COVID-19 pandemic is, that they will comply," O' Leary said.