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E-BLAST: Let's get outside, safely

On one of the first warm evenings in April, I took my fourteen year old grandson Tristan to the driving range. An elite league basketball player, Tristan is used to hours of daily training in a gym. With COVID-19 cases still raging in Toronto, I knew it would be months before he’d be able to play sports indoors again. Tristan was getting really down about it, so I told his mom that golf was the answer. A safe but challenging outdoor activity.

I didn’t give the kid a driver on his first trip out. Just as my dad had done with me, I gave him a 5-iron and a bucket of balls and said, “Get an easy swing going, make contact with the ball, and we’ll rent you a driver the next time we come out.” Of course, there was no next time. The very next weekend, all outdoor sports facilities were shut down by provincial order.

As the weeks go by and the sun finally seems here to stay, I am more and more struck by the foolishness of restricting outdoor exercise options. I’ve heard from many of you here in Don Valley North who feel the same way, particularly about golf and tennis closures. Last summer, tennis clubs and golf courses were able to open with new rules to keep players safe, including social distancing, masking, and minimizing indoor clubhouse use. There’s no question that we were in very different shape back in June 2020 than we are today, but many athletes from these clubs and courses are wondering why they can’t be trusted to play by those rules again.

Today, of course, we’re still in the thick of a third wave fueled by variants of concern that are more infectious and deadly than the virus we faced at the beginning of the pandemic. In response to rising case numbers, the Premier implemented a whole slew of measures intended to stop the spread of COVID-19. This stay-at-home order was extremely cautious on some fronts and closed all outdoor sports facilities, along with the usual list of indoor closures. The only trouble with this is that the Provincial government’s own Science Table, a body of doctors who evaluate the latest science on COVID-19, didn’t advise the Premier to implement many of these measures. Instead, the Science Table was advising the government to focus on stopping indoor transmission, particularly in large indoor workplaces that are driving this third wave.

Some people are finding creative ways to keep enjoying outdoor recreation.

Ontario’s scientific experts have publicly disagreed with closing outdoor sports like golf, tennis, or even skate parks. What the Science Table knows now, and didn’t in early 2020, is that with careful distancing very few cases are transmitted outdoors, even with these new variants. The Science Table has also noted that these restrictions disproportionately impact children and those who don’t have access to their own greenspace like a backyard.

Simply put, the science just doesn’t back up this decision. There are a number of sports you can safely engage in while maintaining two metres of distance, like golf and tennis. The most important thing is to remember social distancing rules before and after the game, when it’s easier to let our guard down and socialize. I don’t want to make this entirely about picking on the Premier. As I’ve said before in my E-Blasts, it’s extremely difficult to lead during a crisis. I know Doug Ford is worn out from navigating uncharted territory for over a year, and he did move quickly to reverse the two most unpopular orders he announced: closing off playgrounds and having police conduct random stops and carding.

When you lead, you have to listen to those around you. I hope that the Premier will really start listening to the Science Table and implement the measures they are recommending, like comprehensive paid sick leave, as opposed to measures that aren’t backed up by science. Many influential voices are encouraging Doug Ford to reconsider the restrictions on outdoor activities when the stay-at-home order is reviewed on May 19, even if indoor closures are still necessary.

Last summer, Mayor Tory joined me at Parkway Forest Community Centre to kick off the first day of CampTO.

On Tuesday, during the Economic and Community Development Committee meeting, I spoke with Parks and Recreation staff about their summer plans. They have been recruiting, training and pre-hiring youth to lead safe outdoor activities this summer, with a particular focus on youth from equity-deserving communities. If we get the go ahead, these young people can help staff outdoor sports clubs and deliver outdoor park and CampTO programming, giving us and our kids more opportunities to safely enjoy the outdoors.

I know that many of us are feeling restless. We’ve lived through this pandemic for over a year, and I know we all want things to go back to normal, whatever that might look like. There are many more vaccine shipments headed for Canada over the next few weeks, so keep planning for your family’s vaccinations as soon as you qualify using the links below. Keep adhering to the current stay-at-home order, which does allow you and your family to get out for a walk, run or bike ride. We will get through this.

And cross your fingers. We could be lacing up tennis and golf shoes very soon.


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