TORONTO — Ontario could safely reopen many outdoor recreational facilities even if it extends a stay-at-home order next week, the province’s science advisers said Tuesday.
The scientific director of Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table said outdoor activities like golf, tennis and beach volleyball are low-risk and with some additional instruction, the province could allow people to once again participate in the sports.
Dr. Peter Juni said people should wear masks if physical distancing cannot be maintained and higher-risk activities linked to many sports — like car-pooling or sharing a locker room — should be discouraged.
“It’s absolutely doable,” he said of reopening outdoor recreational facilities. “It allows you to play beach volleyball or baseball, for example, all relatively easily. You just need to adhere to these rules.”
The province imposed a stay-at-home order last month that closed thousands of business and outdoor recreational facilities, except playgrounds. The government said Monday that it was considering extending the order.
The science table has criticized the restriction of outdoor activities, saying they will not control COVID-19 and disproportionately harm children and those who don’t have access to their own green space.
Juni said the group did not recommend the closures to Premier Doug Ford’s government and stressed that people should be permitted to get outside and safely exercise.
He said that even gatherings outdoors of up to 10 people from two different households could be done safely if physical distancing and masking is adhered to.
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“It also means things like don’t share a glass or a beer bottle,” he said. “But if you teach people, and communicate how to do the things, it can be done.”
The government has shown little interest in changing the rules that bar many outdoor recreation activities, saying they are intended to limit mobility between regions.
Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said Tuesday that while the science table is asking for loosened restrictions on outdoor activities, the group is also telling the government to limit travel so people stay home as much as possible.
“Those two issues together are actually fighting against each other,” she said. “We don’t have a golf course at the end of every street. So, we have to make sure that people continue to understand that the stay-at-home order is in place to avoid unnecessary movement.”
Juni said the science table recommended the province limit mobility to discourage high-risk activities, which could mainly lead to indoor exposure to the virus.
“There appears to be a confusion there,” he said.
The province’s top doctor said he would like to see “well below 1,000” daily cases before Ontario lifts the stay-at-home order.
Dr. David Williams stressed that while the province is bending the pandemic curve, it has not brought the numbers down far enough.
Ontario reported 2,073 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday and 15 additional deaths from the virus. The case numbers were based on more than 28,100 tests completed since the last daily report.
The province said there are currently 1,782 people hospitalized with COVID-19, including 802 in intensive care units.