Families making use of playground equipment in Ottawa will require masks as of Wednesday, the latest twist in a back-and-forth saga over whether such outdoor amenities can remain open amid the third wave of COVID-19 in Ontario.
Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa’s medical officer of health, set the new regulation through a section 22 order under the province’s Health Protection and Promotion Act on Monday.
Starting Wednesday at 12:01 a.m., those within five metres of play structures, swings, slides, climbers and sand boxes at Ottawa parks must be wearing masks.
Children under the age of two or those under five years of age developmentally who cannot be persuaded to put on a mask by their caregiver are exempt from the order.
Ottawa Public Health officials first signalled last week that similar measures were likely coming to outdoor amenities such as playground equipment, but those plans were put on pause after Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced sweeping restrictions Friday that included closing all play structures under the province’s stay-at-home order.
Ford walked back the closure of park equipment the very next day following an uproar from Ontarians.
Other outdoor rec sites, such as public sports fields, ball diamonds, basketball, tennis and pickleball courts, and skate and bike parks remain closed under the provincial mandate.
Parks are otherwise open for use to pedestrians, runners and cyclists. Benches and off-leash dog parks also remain open.
OPH reminds residents to keep two metres of distance from others in parks unless they are members of the same household — this goes for kids using playground equipment as well.
Social gatherings are also prohibited under the provincial order.
But Ottawa officials are leery of using enforcement to promote public health measures, according to a joint statement from OPH, police and bylaw services released Monday.
Ford’s original announcement on Friday included new policing powers to give officers the ability to stop residents and question them about where they live and where they’re going. The move was quickly called an overstep by many in Ontario and was subsequently walked back the next day to focus on individuals believed to be attending large gatherings.
Police, bylaw and OPH said in their statement that they have registered those concerns in their approach to enforcement of any new regulations.
“We have heard many voices in the community raise concerns about these new measures, both in terms of their need and applicability. The concerns raised by racialized and marginalized communities are top of mind,” they said.
They said that “egregious violations of public health” can be covered off by enforcing existing restrictions, adding that new policing of residents’ behaviours “could create challenges with compliance to public health orders and may actually set COVID-19 control measures back.”
Rather, authorities will be better off focusing on “encouragement, sharing information and awareness raising” in promoting public health and other measures aimed at reducing the spread of COVID-19 in Ottawa, they said.