Masks could soon be made mandatory in Ottawa parks

Masks could soon become mandatory in city parks as public health officials grasp for ways to wrestle the spread of COVID-19 under control before it overwhelms local hospitals.

OPH mulling local restrictions as COVID-19 continues to strain health-care system

People soak up the sun in Major's Hill Park in Ottawa during the COVID-19 pandemic on Saturday, April 3, 2021. Masks could soon become mandatory in city parks as the third wave of COVID-19 threatens to overwhelm local hospitals. (Mathieu Theriault/CBC)

Masks could soon become mandatory in city parks as public health officials grasp for ways to wrestle the spread of COVID-19 under control before it overwhelms local hospitals.

On Wednesday, Dr. Brent Moloughney, Ottawa's deputy medical officer of health, announced plans to impose further restrictions in parks and other recreational areas in an attempt to "bend the curve."

"We are at a major, major point here as a city," Moloughney said. "The situation in Ottawa is the worst that it has been to date during this pandemic."

Details of the restrictions, which would come by way of a Section 22 order under the Health Protection and Promotion Act, are still being decided, but will likely include a cap on the number of people allowed to use playgrounds and basketball courts at any one time, as well as a mandatory mask policy in some outdoor public settings.

Currently, masks are only required in indoor public settings, though their wider use is recommended.

The new rules would be similar to those enacted this past winter, when Ottawa Public Health limited the number of people allowed on sledding hills and required masks be worn near skating rinks, Moloughney said.

Ontarians are currently under a four-week provincewide stay-at-home order, and schools will remain closed after spring break.

Earlier on Wednesday, city staff announced plans to close some city parks two hours early at 9 p.m. to prevent gatherings.

Hospitalizations for COVID-19 are now doubling every 12 days, said Dr. Brent Moloughney, deputy medical officer of health, in a presentation to city councillors on April 14, 2021. (Ottawa Public Health)

Hospitalizations worrying

Moloughney said he's especially concerned by the rate of hospitalizations during this third wave of COVID-19. The number of patients is doubling every 12 days and intensive care units are filling up fast, currently accounting for one-quarter of COVID-19 admissions.

Local hospitals are admitting patients from other hard-hit regions, and CHEO, eastern Ontario's children's hospital in Ottawa, says it's preparing to admit adult patients for the first time in its history.

Variants of the original COVID-19 virus are exacerbating the problem, and are now responsible for the majority of cases, said Moloughney. They're also striking younger people, and making them sicker.

Health officials continue to remind residents to limit contact to those within their own households, keep two metres between themselves and others, and wear masks. Vaccines alone won't change the pandemic's course, Moloughney said.

Coun. Keith Egli, chair of Ottawa's board of health, cautioned those who have been vaccinated against acting like the pandemic is over.

"We are not there yet. This is dangerous and is helping to contribute to the further spread of COVID in Ottawa," Egli said.

Moloughney urged residents to avoid outdoor gatherings, even if up to five people are allowed to congregate outside under Ontario's current guidelines.

"Staying with our households is really what we need to be doing," he said.


Kate Porter


Kate Porter covers municipal affairs for CBC Ottawa. Over the past two decades, she has also produced in-depth reports for radio, web and TV, regularly presented the radio news, and covered the arts beat.