Saskatchewan

How much COVID-19 risk is there in these common summer activities?

CBC Saskatchewan asked Dr. Joseph Blondeau to help you decide what to do this summer.

CBC Saskatchewan asked Dr. Joseph Blondeau to help you decide what to do this summer

What's the risk of getting COVID-19 while doing your favourite summer activities? We asked an expert to find out. (CBC Graphics)

Summer is just around the corner and COVID-19 vaccines are going into people's arms. 

But with coronavirus variants continuing to be an issue in the province, how safe are some of the classic summer activities people in Saskatchewan might be looking forward to?

CBC Saskatchewan spoke to Dr. Joseph Blondeau to find out. 

Blondeau, a clinical microbiologist in Saskatoon, said people should still be mindful that being close to someone and having sustained contact is how the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 spreads.

"So the types of things that have been promoted since the onset of the pandemic in terms of using a mask, physical distancing and then hand-washing and surface decontamination of high-touch surfaces are still, to this day, all really important," Blondeau said.

So are public health recommendations, he says.

Currently, no indoor household gatherings are allowed and outdoor gatherings are allowed only up to 10 people. 

But that will soon change — on May 30, up to 10 people can gather indoors or outdoors at private gatherings, and up to 150 people will be allowed at public outdoor gatherings. 

"The measures are really not an attempt to take away people's freedoms but an attempt to keep people safe. And, yes, that does restrict some of our freedoms. But I think it was a necessary thing to do during this pandemic when people are dying."

As they relax, though, more activities will become options in Saskatchewan.

Here's how Dr. Blondeau rates the risk of some of them.

High-risk activities 

Carpooling or sharing a vehicle with someone not in your household is a high-risk situation, Blondeau said. 

"You're in a confined environment for a long period of time and certainly within six feet of anybody else who happens to be in that vehicle. And as a consequence, it's a high-risk situation for transmission."

Medium- to high-risk activities

Indoor celebrations would be considered a high-risk activity, because of the higher chance of transmission in close proximity to others inside, says Dr. Joseph Blondeau. (CBC Graphics)

Indoor celebrations are medium- to high-risk, as there's the opportunity for sustained contact and close contact, meaning the risk of COVID-19 transmitting, Blondeau said.

The larger the group, the larger the risk, he said, even if you're vaccinated. 

"An individual who has been vaccinated could still be infected with COVID-19. You may not show any symptoms or you may be mildly symptomatic. But you then could serve as a reservoir for transmission to other individuals," Blondeau said. 

If everyone is fully vaccinated though, the risk of severe infection and death decreases if COVID-19 is present, Blondeau said.

An indoor sport where spacing is possible is about a medium risk, Dr. Blondeau said. (CBC Graphics)

Indoor sports, he said, should be treated like any other indoor gathering.

"When you're in a confined space, then risk is elevated. However, depending on the sport, some of those spaces are quite large and the ability to maintain some level of distancing is generally possible. But it depends," Blondeau said. 

An indoor sport where spacing is possible is about a medium risk, Blondeau said. Any indoor activity where you can't maintain physical distancing — including something like swimming — increases the risk or transmission, he said.

Any indoor activity where you can't maintain physical distancing increases the risk or transmission, including indoor swimming, says Dr. Blondeau. (CBC Graphics)

Low- to medium-risk 

Being outdoors is certainly safer than indoors, but keeping a distance and wearing masks have been shown to be effective to reducing the spread of COVID-19. (CBC Graphics)

Being outdoors is certainly safer than indoors, Blondeau said, but keeping a distance and wearing masks have been shown to be effective to reducing the spread of the coronavirus.

"The size of the gathering will determine how physically distant you can be," Blondeau said. 

If you know how to wash your hands properly, the likelihood that you'll get COVID-19 from a surface area in a bathroom is low, says Dr. Blondeau. (CBC Graphics)

If you know how to properly wash your hands, the likelihood that you'll get COVID-19 from a surface is low, but it depends on the makeup of the room. 

"It really depends on whether or not you're in a small, confined space with somebody else. If you're in a space all by yourself, the likelihood for transmission is almost negligible," Blondeau said. 

"If, on the other hand, you happen to be in a public washroom where there are a lot of other people and you're violating that six feet of distance rule, then it probably elevates the risk to medium, maybe even to high, depending on how long you're in that environment."

The risk of renting a cabin is low if you are with your family. (CBC Graphics)

If you are with your household or bubble, renting a cabin isn't risky, Blondeau said. The risk increases if people are renting a cabin with others who aren't in their bubble. 

Being spaced out on a pontoon is better than having a number of people in a small dinghy. (CBC Graphics)

Blondeau said the risk in going fishing comes down to whether everyone is immunized or not and the size of the boat. People spaced out on a pontoon is better than a number of people in a small dinghy. 

It's important people follow the province's guidelines about wearing masks when they're coaching or watching sports, says Dr. Blondeau. He said transmission is possible if spectators are sitting close together for prolonged periods. (CBC Graphics)

"Outdoor sports are safe. And we've just heard the government announce that they're opening up outdoor sports and so we're going to see a lot of kids coming back into playing these sports," Blondeau said.

But there's a caveat, he says — it's important people follow the province's guidelines on wearing masks when they're coaching or in the stands watching. Transmission is possible if spectators sit close together for prolonged periods, he says.

The risk of sports also changes if everyone, including the children playing, is vaccinated. He said if the coronavirus is present, vaccinated people have a lower viral load, and are less likely to transmit it or get seriously ill from it.

If people are spaced out, in their small bubble and vaccinated, then the risk from a backyard barbecue is low. (CBC Graphics)

Backyard barbecues are always about capacity, Blondeau said. If people are spaced out, in their small bubble and vaccinated, the risk is low.

Having drinks on the patio is a low- to medium-risk activity, says Dr. Blondeau, but people should stay distanced when possible. (CBC Graphics)

Having drinks on the patio is generally a low- to medium-risk activity, he says, but people should stay distanced when possible and check with others if they're vaccinated to be safe. 

"If your patio can comfortably sit six people and you can all have your own little space and you're outdoors, the risk would be low. But again, if your patio is designed for two and you've got 20 people on it, then it's difficult to be mindful of some of these other measures."

Low-risk activities 

Camping is considered low risk as long as you don't mix with people outside of your extended household. (CBC Graphics)
Feel free to take a hike or go on a bike ride. The risk is low, according to our expert. (CBC Graphics)
It's easy to physically distance while swimming outdoors, says Dr. Blondeau. (CBC Graphics)
Our expert says sitting around a campfire with a small group presents a low risk. (CBC Graphics)

Blondeau said sitting around a fire is low risk. "Because the fire's there and tends to be central, it is easy to separate your chairs, and you are outdoors." 

Eating outside is low risk, especially if people are on their own picnic blankets, Dr. Blondeau says. (CBC Graphics)

Blondeau said lunch in the park is low risk, as people maintain their distance on different blankets. But if 10 people try to sit on thesame blanket, that risk obviously increases.

"The distance between you and anybody else is still important at this point in time," Blondeau said. 

"That may change going forward, but I still think that we need to be mindful of that."

With files from Alex Soloduca

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