Municipal and provincial parks to reopen as Nova Scotia eases COVID-19 restrictions
'We need to feel that fresh air, a little freedom. The keyword is a little,' says Premier Stephen McNeil
The Nova Scotia government announced Friday it is immediately easing some public health restrictions around COVID-19, including opening all municipal and provincial parks.
Some of the initial steps include:
- Reopening provincial and municipal parks (excluding playgrounds and beaches), trails and community gardens. Skate parks are open. Provincial parks won't have visitor facilities available to the public, including parking lots, washroom facilities and garbage collection because it is still off-season.
- Reopening garden centres, nurseries and similar businesses.
- Sport fishing is permitted from shore or boat, but fishing derbies are not allowed.
- People are now allowed to go to boating, yacht or sailing clubs to prepare boats for use.
- Golf driving ranges can open, including those at golf clubs. Courses must remain closed, but golf clubs can perform the necessary preparation work for reopening.
- People can use their cottages, but use is restricted to one household unit at a time. Travel must be directly to the cottage and back. Travelling back and forth frequently from cottage to primary residence is discouraged. This does not apply to cottage rentals.
- Provincial and private campgrounds are still closed, but staff are now permitted to do maintenance work for reopening. An exception to this rule is recreational vehicles parked year-round at private campgrounds, which can be used but must follow the same rules.
- Drive-thru religious services will be allowed as long as people stay in their cars and are parked two metres apart and there is no interaction between people in cars or between people in cars and others.
Rules around physical distancing and social gatherings remain in place. People must keep two metres apart and not gather in groups of more than five.
Premier Stephen McNeil warned restrictions will return if public health measures aren't followed.
"I'm worried about all of you and I'm worried about how we are coping," McNeil said during a press briefing on Friday, referencing COVID-19 deaths, the mass shooting, and the military helicopter crash.
"We need to get out of our heads and out of our houses and get outside. We need to feel that fresh air, a little freedom. The keyword is a little."
While the easing of those restrictions came into effect immediately, it could take a little while for some municipal parks to reopen.
Shortly after the announcement was made, Halifax Coun. Waye Mason said unlocking the gates to popular destinations like the Halifax Public Gardens may not be complete until the end of the weekend. The municipality said all beaches, sports courts and playgrounds are closed until further notice.
The Town of Truro announced its municipal parks would reopen on Saturday, with the exception of playgrounds.
"Don't look for loopholes and don't bend the rules," McNeil warned.
Beaches and playgrounds still closed
Beaches and playgrounds will remain closed.
"Most of us don't have a beach in our community and would have to drive a fair distance to get to one. And we really don't want people driving long distances if they don't need to," said Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health.
"Playgrounds have many challenges to maintaining social distance for kids, plus have many high-touch surfaces that cannot be sanitized. So for those reasons for now, we're keeping beaches and playgrounds closed."
If a provincial park has a beach, the beach part of the park is closed, Strang said.
Drive within community, avoid crowds
Strang said the province will be monitoring to see if there is an uptick in COVID-19 cases after the restrictions are eased. He said it could take two weeks to see the impact of this weekend.
If people need to drive within their community to get to a park or trail, Strang said it's important not "to create crowded parking lots or roadsides."
"If there's already a significant number of cars there, please don't stop. Go somewhere else."
'We have not lost sight of the economy'
Mental health played a big role in the province's decision to ease restrictions, McNeil said.
When it comes to people violating physical distancing rules, the premier said adults — not children — are the worst offenders.
He said talks about reopening the economy will begin soon.
"We have not lost sight of the economy. We have not lost sight of how we're going to work with our private sector," McNeil said.
"Right now, this is about Nova Scotians and trying to help all of us deal with what we've been asked to deal with."
State of emergency extended
On Friday, the province announced one new COVID-19 death and 12 new cases of the virus. The latest death was reported at Northwood, McNeil said.
The province also announced Friday that Nova Scotia's state of emergency has been extended to May 17.
There have now been 29 deaths in the province due to COVID-19, with 23 of them happening at Northwood, including the death announced Friday.
As of Thursday, there were 237 residents and 105 staff at 10 long-term care homes and seniors facilities that had COVID-19.
Ten people are currently in hospital because of the virus, with three of them in intensive care.
Nova Scotia has had 959 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 592 individuals now recovered.
The following is a list of symptoms for COVID-19:
- New or worsening cough.
- Sore throat.
- Runny nose.
Anyone with two or more of those symptoms should visit 811's website for a self-assessment questionnaire to determine if 811 should be called for further assessment.
Police across Nova Scotia are continuing to charge people under the Nova Scotia Health Protection Act.
Nova Scotia RCMP have charged 190 people with offences related to the provincial state of emergency. Five of those charges have been since April 28.
Cape Breton Regional Police have so far issued 98 tickets, with 21 of those tickets handed out this week.
Halifax Regional Police have issued 152 tickets since the state of emergency was declared, with only one ticket issued since Monday.