Gathering in a park to meet friends and family may seem like a less risky way to socialize, but that doesn’t make it completely safe from spreading coronavirus, Ottawa public health officials warn.
The messaging comes after Ottawa’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Vera Etches on Tuesday said a recent BBQ at a local park led to coronavirus quickly spreading within the community.
Forty people gathered in a park for a BBQ, and there was no social distancing and no masks worn for several hours while eating, according to Etches. She didn’t specify where or when the gathering occurred.
Two people at the BBQ developed COVID-19 symptoms two days after the event and later tested positive.
This led to two different outbreaks; one at a workplace and one at a daycare.
Etches said COVID-19 transmission happened among staff and two children at the daycare. The two children who became symptomatic then went to two separate schools on two separate buses.
Because of this, 105 people were considered “high-risk contact.” They needed to self-isolate for 14 days and get tested for the virus.
Zahid Butt, an assistant professor and infectious disease specialist at the University of Waterloo, said what happened at the BBQ in Ottawa is an example of how coronavirus can spread, even outdoors, if people are not more than two metres apart.
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“We are not out of the woods yet. There are people who are asymptomatic and may not shows signs of the virus … but if you don’t follow two-metre distancing and don’t wear a mask, there is a high likelihood you can contract the virus, even outdoors,” Butt said.
“With these outdoor gatherings, if people are not part of your social bubble, you cannot come close to them,” he added.
He added that if Canadians want to avoid a second lockdown, then it’s key that people maintain physical distancing guidelines, as well as proper handwashing and mask-wearing.
Having a BBQ outside may seem like a safe way to gather, but it’s still risky, said Colin Furness, an infection control epidemiologist and assistant professor at the University of Toronto.
At a BBQ, people are sitting close together, talking for a long period of time and possibly sharing food and condiments, he said.
“This is very risky,” Furness said. “And the Ottawa example drives it home — we still want to make sure we are two metres apart.”
Ontario restricts social gatherings
Canada is grappling with rising rates of COVID-19 across the country, but especially in provinces like Quebec and Ontario.
In response to the surge of cases, on Friday, Ontario restricted the number of gatherings allowed indoors and outdoors.
The new rules state that gatherings are now capped at 10 people inside (down from 50) and 25 outside (down from 100). Organizers of gatherings in violation of the rules could face a minimum fine of $10,000 and those who attend could also be fined $750.
This also comes after Ottawa health officials declared last week that the city was in a second coronavirus wave.
Etches warned that the speed at which Ottawa is reporting new cases of the virus is unsustainable and that the community must work to keep it to a more manageable level.
“Our goal, as a community, is to stop the rise — slow down the rise — turn the curve again,” she said.