Can I go to the beach or someone’s backyard? Here’s how risky summer activities are

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WATCH: The city has opened up a few outdoor recreation spaces, Tricia Mason tell us the dos and don'ts of sunny weather... – May 22, 2020

Summer this year will not feel familiar for all Canadians.

Although the warm weather has encouraged many to enjoy the outdoors, coronavirus social distancing protocols are still in place across the country to varying degrees depending on where you live.

Due to the pandemic, large gatherings continue to be banned and if places like restaurants or campgrounds are open, they are operating at limited capacities.

When choosing an activity to take part in this summer, it can be tricky to assess how much of a risk you are taking.

Judging how safe it will be to partake in any social scenario this summer depends on several factors, said Andrew Morris, an infectious disease specialist and professor in the faculty of medicine at the University of Toronto.

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You’ll have to determine, Morris said: how many people are at this activity? Is social distancing possible? Will you be indoors or outdoors? And, are you sharing items like food?

Another major factor is how long you plan to spend time with others, he said.

“Clearly staying away from crowds — which means lots of people close together — that has to be one of the primary ways of staying safe.”

Wearing a mask in those scenarios helps reduce risk, but it won’t be enough. A mask for those purposes should be considered a last resort if you can’t completely avoid a crowd, he said.

Ultimately, staying indoors away from others is the safest you can be, but since that’s not realistic for most who want to be outside during the summer, understanding what increases and decreases risk is the next best thing, said Morris.

Global News spoke looked into multiple summer activities and asked infectious disease experts how risky they are, and how you can decide for yourself if it’s worth it.

Bike riding or jogging: Low-risk

Biking or running outside, if you are away from others, wouldn’t be considered high-risk, said Morris. He doesn’t recommend wearing a mask for this activity if you are distant from others.

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Staying at least six-feet from others in an area that isn’t crowded — where you can keep your distance without too much effort, will make this activity safer, he said.

It’s completely safe to be running outside, said Colin Furness, a professor at the Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation at the University of Toronto, in a previous Global News report.  He said breathing in droplets expelled by others is most likely to happen indoors, not outside when you’re quickly passing by others.

Golfing: Low-risk

Golfing is a pretty low-risk activity, said Morris. It’s important to keep in mind about the sharing of touch points though, he said.

If multiple people are using the same steering wheel in a golf cart, and touching it multiple times, that’s not advised, he explained.

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“If there’s four people using a golf cart that would be more problematic,” he said. “You don’t want to be touching things with your hands that other people are touching.” Be sure to bring hand sanitizer on this activity and any occasion where you may be touching items or objects that others have, he said.

The beach or a public pool: Depends on the crowds

If beaches or public pools are open in your province or territory, keep your space as best you can and leave if it’s very crowded, said Ashleigh Tuite, an epidemiologist at the University of Toronto.

“If you can go to the beach and set down your blankets or your towels, and make sure there’s enough of a circumference around you and other people, that’s going to be ideal,” she said.

Swimming pools are going to be more challenging in terms of crowding, she said. There’s going to have to be monitoring and rules if swimming pools are reopening to ensure they aren’t at full capacity, she added.

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“You’re outdoors, so that’s good in terms of reducing your transmission risk. But you’re potentially in a pool where people are yelling and excited and jumping around … thinking about how you maintain your distance while enjoying those sorts of situations, is going to be tricky to navigate,” she said.

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You will have to assess your own safety based on the beach and the pool you are going to, and you will ultimately have to decide whether it’s a space where it’s easy to keep your distance, she said.

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Backyard BBQ: Low to medium risk

Some provinces like Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Alberta and Saskatchewan are allowing gatherings with more than five people. Combining households and hosting a barbecue in a backyard space may be an activity some will want to host.

Being around others outdoors is immediately better than being indoors with others, said Tuite.

“If you’re all gathered in the backyard, if you can space yourselves out — don’t be physically touching people that you don’t need to be touching,” she said.

It’s also beneficial if you don’t cook for others to limit the passing of food, she said. It will feel odd, but asking others to bring their own food and hosting a picnic instead would be safer, she explained.

“It’s not necessarily as fun as having a barbecue, but it allows you to interact with other people and have the social event,” she said.

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If you are sharing items, wash your hands as much as you can and avoid touching your face, she said.

Another factor with visiting someone’s house and staying in the backyard, is the need to use their bathroom inside. Bringing hand sanitizer, or being sure to wash surfaces after people leave is important, she said.

The park with friends: Low-risk, but depends on the crowd

Keeping parks safe requires clear communication from officials about the importance of physical distancing in these spaces, said Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist based out of Toronto General Hospital, in a previous Global News report.

In Toronto’s Trinity Bellwoods Park, after thousands packed into the space on a hot day on May 23, social distancing circles were added to keep people away from each other.

Staying at least six feet from others and keeping gatherings small, depending on your province or territory’s rules, is crucial, experts said in the previous report.

Hair and beauty salons: Depends on protocols

Salons in B.C. and Manitoba were allowed to reopen this month.

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Even when operating with safety protocols in place, there may be a higher risk of transmission because the nature of these businesses is close contact with customers, according to a previous Global News report.

Guidelines being used in Manitoba and Saskatchewan involve reducing the number of people in a salon at a time, spacing out appointments to allow time for cleaning, and allowing services like blow-drying to be optional to reduce the amount of time in the salon.

Colin Furness told Global News that both customers and employees in salons should wear masks.

He recommends employees wear an N95 mask, used to protect an individual against COVID-19, since those masks screen out 95 per cent of small particles. Clients can wear a surgical paper mask, he said.

“The customer will be keeping their droplets to themselves by wearing a paper mask, and the service provider will be wearing an N95 to prevent inhalation of anything,” he said.

“And then, of course, you need to worry about where hands are touching and where hands are going, and disinfect those kinds of surfaces, armrests or what have you.”

Restaurants: Depends if there’s a patio

While provinces like B.C., Alberta and New Brunswick have announced plans to reopen restaurants, infectious disease experts told Global News in a previous report that they are concerned how safe these spaces can be, even with precautions.

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Patios are safer because they are outdoors which lowers the risk of transmission, said Stan Houston, professor of medicine at the University of Alberta, in the previous report.

“So patios, go for it. I wouldn’t hesitate to eat there,” he said.

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Restaurants overall are definitely a higher risk activity especially if you are eating indoors, said Tuite. But if a restaurant is prepared and has precautions in place, that will lower the risk to employees and patrons, she said.

“Indoors is less ideal because there have been clusters of cases in restaurants,” she said. Air conditioning will cause the air to circulate which could raise the risk to those inside, she explained.

There’s also multiple touch points within a restaurant, like bringing out dishes and condiments. Employees will likely wear gloves to help with this, she said.

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“It’s going to be more about maintaining space between tables and making sure shared surfaces are cleaned regularly,” she said.

Working out at a gym: medium to high risk

Provinces like B.C. and Nova Scotia will have some gyms open this summer. These spaces are particularly difficult to open as they are indoors, have people breathing heavily and have many high-frequency touch points like weights and equipment, experts told Global News in a previous report.

The gym could only be considered a safe activity if the case numbers in a region are low, said Bogoch in the previous report.

“It’s just not a safe environment when we’re dealing with a respiratory infection that can be easily transmitted from person to person. The threshold to open gyms again is going to be high, and we’re going to need to see a lot of safeguards in place,” he said.

Outdoor exercises may be a safer option right now as it could be difficult to social distance in a gym, depending on the safety protocols in place, said Jay Kaufman, an epidemiologist at McGill University in Montreal in the previous report.

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“Events like spin classes, Zumba classes, yoga classes … should as much as possible be moved outdoors with adequate spacing between clients,” he said.

Larger outdoor events: medium to high risk

The more people at an event, even if it’s outside, the higher the risk is for everyone, said Tuite.

Alberta is one provinces that is allowing outdoor gatherings of up to 50 people.

Especially if this event is a celebration and there’s alcohol present, that could also lower people’s inhibitions and could reduce how careful they are when it comes to social distancing, she said.

Ultimately, even if these gatherings are allowed, you will have to ask yourself what risks you are willing to take and what risks you’re willing to expose other people to, she said.

“If you’re living in a household with someone who you think is more vulnerable… you’re going to want to be much more cautious,” she said. “Part of the reason for making these assessments is not only because you’re worried about protecting yourself from getting infected, you also don’t want to be the person who is spreading infection to other people.”

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The idea that you can assess if someone poses a risk to you by looking at them, or by taking their word that they’ve been careful, is wrong, said Morris.

“You can’t be looking at somebody to decide whether or not they’re infected. That’s the same for a sexually transmitted infection,” he said.

When making these choices, go by the main principles that involve staying away from crowds, and wearing a mask if safe distancing is impossible, said Morris. Participate in outdoor activities over anything indoors, he added.

The more people around, the higher your risk of being infected increases, he said.

“The goal is … to do all of the things that they can to reduce those risks,” he said. “We are relying on people to behave responsibly.”

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Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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