Ottawa

Now's a good time to allow banned outdoor activities: Expert

Golf, basketball, tennis and skateboarding have all been banned since Ontario tightened restrictions under the stay-at-home order in early April.

Province's science advisory table never suggested banning golf, skateboarding

A man shoots baskets alone on an outdoor basketball court in Ontario in May. Infectious disease specialist Dr. Gerald Evans says the province's Science Advisory Table never recommended certain outdoor activities be banned, but suspects the province has hesitated allowing them again because of worries people may travel during the stay-at-home order. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

With summer-like weather across eastern Ontario and a drop in COVID-19 cases and vaccinations, an infectious disease specialist says now is the time to reopen certain sports currently banned by the province.

Golf, basketball, tennis and skateboarding have all been shuttered since Premier Doug Ford's government tightened restrictions under the stay-at-home order in early April.

That was never the science advisory table's recommendation to the province, said Dr. Gerald Evans, infectious disease specialist at Queen's University and Kingston Health Sciences Centre, who is also a member of the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table. 

"We don't see a downside to [outdoor activities] and we see what really amounts to an upside to helping people with their mental health," he said. "The risk of transmission of COVID if you're outdoors is extraordinarily lower than it is indoors."

He said some estimates suggest being outside can be 18 to 20 times as safe as inside.

Optimism bias

For the past year, health officials have been saying the outdoors is safer than indoors, but being outside doesn't make someone immune.

It's the socialization aspect associated with many sports that can pose a risk, said Evans, such as golfers getting together on the "19th hole."

Why it may be time to allow outdoor activities in Ontario

1 year ago
Duration 1:15
Dr. Gerald Evans, infectious disease specialist at Queen's University, says the risk of outdoor transmission is low as long as people from different households keep at least two metres apart.

With the nice weather and lower cases, humans are built to have optimism bias — where we favour the idea that things are not as bad as we think they are, which can cloud our judgment.

"There is going to be a tendency to sort of say, 'Well you know, I was listening to somebody who said it was pretty safe outdoors ... maybe I'll take a little bit more of a chance.'"

Something like a backyard barbecue can be problematic, he said. 

One such barbecue at an Ottawa park last summer led to a surge in cases locally.

"There's no question about it and physical activity is important," Ottawa's Medical Officer of Health Dr. Vera Etches told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning last week.

Yet, she also reiterated concerns about people gathering with those outside their households. Last fall, she also warned about a surge in COVID-19 cases linked to organized sports, at a time when cases were on the rise in the city.

While she didn't state whether she favoured allowing certain outdoor activities to resume before June 2, she said, once they resume, people can minimize the risk of spreading the illness by wearing masks when in close contact with others.

"Nobody wants another resurgence of COVID. Our hospital workers, you know, have been stretched too many times."

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