You can gather with relatives on Family Day again. Here's how to stay safe

Epidemiologist Dr. Fahad Razak says the Family Day weekend is a good time to start getting together with friends and family. But he says it's also important to be cautious.

Ontario has loosened COVID-19 restrictions, allowing indoor gatherings of up to 50 people

Friends Kushal Bhardwaj, left, and Harry Maghera, right, are looking forward to time off this Family Day. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC)

With COVID-19 cases surging in December, Harry Maghera and his family had to scrap their Christmas dinner in Toronto. But this Family Day weekend, he's headed to Brampton for a do-over. 

"It's been a long time," said Maghera. "I'm really excited to see my nieces and nephews again." 

Pippa Bean, 15, also has big plans for the weekend. For the first time in two years, she'll get to see her cousins in Edmonton.. 

"The last time we saw them, the youngest one was about six or seven, and now he's nine, she said. "I think it'll be pretty crazy to see them." 

Bean and Maghera aren't alone in their excitement. For many in Ontario, this will be the first Family Day since 2020 they can safely visit their extended family. With COVID-19-related hospitalizations trending downward, the province has loosened gathering restrictions to allow up to 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors. 

From left: Tupper Bean, Pippa Bean, Travis Bean and Emma Reid enjoy a walk together ahead of Family Day. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC)

People can also gather with their loved ones for a drink, a meal or a movie inside with bars, restaurants and cinemas that require vaccination now cleared to open at full capacity. 

It's a good time to get together with family, said Toronto epidemiologist Dr. Fahad Razak, though he cautioned it isn't safe yet to throw public health precautions out the window. 

"I think people still need to consider that risk levels are still reasonably high across communities, and because of testing breakdowns, we still don't have the ability to test everyone who has symptoms," said Razak, who is also a physician at Toronto's  St. Michael's Hospital. 

Windows open, fans on

That means if you're gathering inside, consider opening a window and turning on as many fans as possible, Razak said. 

Before visiting someone who's older or immunocompromised, Razak also recommended reducing contacts in the days leading up to the visit. Razak pointed to an example in his own family: an elderly parent who has multiple sclerosis. He said 

Dr. Fahad Razak is a physician at St Michael's Hospital in Toronto and a member of Ontario's COVID-19 Science Advisory Table. (CBC)

"Would I take my children, who are age two and four, to a large gathering of children in the next couple of days, if they're going to be seeing [their grandparents] on Monday?" said Razak. 

"I wouldn't. I would avoid that."

For an added layer of protection, Razak said wearing a mask around vulnerable people is also a good idea. 

Get outside

On the whole, he said, outdoor activities are typically safer than indoor ones — and with snow on the ground, now is a good time to get outside. 

That's the plan for Noah Wadden and his family. 

Noah Wadden and his three daughters sledding at Riverdale Park. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC)

On Friday, he and his three girls were sledding in Riverdale Park and planned to squeeze in a snowshoeing trip over the weekend. 

"We got just a perfect snowfall last night, so we're going to take advantage of it while it lasts," he said. 

Rapid tests a good idea

Razak said rapid tests are also a good idea if you have them. 

Use them the same day as the gathering, he said, and remember that while a positive test means you should definitely consider yourself positive for COVID-19, a negative test doesn't mean you're 100 per cent in the clear. 

"The test will sometimes miss people who still have active disease," said Razak.

That means even if you test negative you should monitor for symptoms, such as a flu-like illness, fever, shortness of breath or cough, said Razak. 

If you have any of those, your best bet is to just stay home, he added. 

"Don't put yourself in a setting where you could precipitate an exposure among family members or among friends."