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Ottawa restores access to green space in parks, window visits at long-term care homes

Play structures in Ottawa parks remain closed, but tennis courts and other facilities are now accessible as part of Ontario's early reopening. Craig Lord / Global News

The City of Ottawa has loosened restrictions to allow individuals and families to spend time outdoors on green space in parks and has restored window visits for residents of city-run long-term care facilities.

Mayor Jim Watson said during a call with media on Wednesday that residents can now engage in some outdoor activities in the city’s parks, such as sitting in open fields, flying a kite or kicking a ball.

Restrictions remain in place on play structures and sports fields in parks, as the Ontario government extended an emergency order banning the use of those amenities earlier in the day on Wednesday.

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Gatherings of more than five people are still against the rules, too, unless you’re with members of your own household.

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Dog parks remain off-limits due to provincial legislation, but Watson said members of his staff have been in touch with the province about potentially loosening those restrictions as well.

As warmer spring weather began to hit Ottawa in recent weeks, more members of the public were keen to make use of empty green space in the city’s parks, which, until now, were off limits for all activities except for walk-throughs.

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A group of urban councillors sent a letter to Ontario Premier Doug Ford, Minister of Health Christine Elliott and city manager Steve Kanellakos on Tuesday asking to give residents a bit more freedom when it comes to outdoor activities in parks during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Watson acknowledged those frustrations during the call, but noted we can’t return to normal as quickly as some might like.

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“I know we’re all anxious to get back to our normal routines and way of life, and this is just one small step in that direction,” he said.

Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa’s medical officer of health, said Wednesday that though Ottawa appears to be past the peak of coronavirus infections, there’s always a risk of relapse should restrictions be relaxed too quickly.

READ MORE: You’re less likely to catch coronavirus outdoors — so why are parks closed?

Borrowing a colleague’s metaphor, she said Ottawa has “wrestled” the level of coronavirus infections to the ground, but said the city must now must keep it “pinned” to ensure the case load doesn’t rise again.

Ottawa Public Health reported there were 1,558 lab-confirmed cases of the virus in Ottawa as of Wednesday, 23 more than the day before.

There was one additional death in relation to the coronavirus since the last report, bringing the city’s death toll to 139.

Care homes across the province continue to be hot spots for coronavirus, and Ottawa is no exception with 14 ongoing outbreaks in long-term care facilities across the city.

The city also announced a new plan Wednesday to reinstate visits between family members and residents of city-run long-term care homes at first-floor windows, where possible.

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City staff caused a furor last week after announcing a ban on window visits, but Watson asked staff to reverse course on the policy to find a way to keep these brief opportunities for contact possible.

The new plan will see three scheduled periods for visits throughout the day when family members can see residents, who, when possible, will have a phone on the other side of the window to facilitate conversation.

Window visits will not be possible at any long-term care facilities currently experiencing an outbreak.

Watson said he hopes the new policy will allow families to connect on Mother’s Day this coming Sunday.
“I hope this gives families a chance to see their mothers, grandmothers and even great grandmothers, in the comfort of their home while you’re on the other side of the glass,” he said.

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