Brampton keeps outdoor amenities open amid province-wide stay at home order

·6 min read

In his office overlooking Gage Park in downtown Brampton, Mayor Patrick Brown turned away from the live video feed of Wednesday’s committee of council meeting. He peered through the window for a view of the tree-lined outdoor skating rink below, a place that transports visitors to an idyllic winter escape.

The ice width is “significantly larger than a sidewalk, or typical creek trail,” Brown pointed out to council members. Given the City’s ability to control rink capacity through its online booking system, he argued that existing measures to promote social distancing are sufficient. Non-medical masks or face coverings were in place only as a recommendation at Brampton’s outdoor rinks, but are mandatory in line-ups, the washrooms, or staging areas.

“In general, wearing a mask is always good practice. I would just say let’s be careful about what precedents we set here…and what this means for the city and other avenues,” he said. Brown’s worry was that other City-owned properties, including basketball courts and soccer fields when they re-open, and even sidewalks, could then be subject to mandatory masking orders.

The mayor put forward concerns supported by those fatigued by some of the protective measures imposed on them, but his more liberal attitude toward mask use stood in contrast with a motion that had just been forwarded.

The comments came in response to a move by Councillor Rowena Santos for Brampton to implement an immediate policy to make face-coverings mandatory while skating, a decision Toronto already made.

According to the motion – which passed unanimously despite the mayor’s concerns – provincial public health factsheets point to evidence that people can develop COVID-19 after repeated and cumulative exposure to someone with the novel coronavirus, “in the same manner as prolonged close contact.”

Santos told Council the motion was aimed to “provide a little bit more clarity and consistency” to rink etiquette in a shared space, even if outdoors. The City will mobilize its surplus of masks to various skating rinks and inform those who have registered online about the new mandatory policy.

The move to make these spaces safer in Ontario’s hardest-hit city comes after a more drastic measure to close winter amenities in Vaughan. Last week, the municipality announced it was closing outdoor amenities, including dog parks, in line with its “disciplined, reasonable and measured approach to COVID-19,” according to a press release announcing the move three days after the province entered a state of emergency and the stay-at-home order came into effect on January 14.

“You need to do all that you can to reduce the transmission of COVID-19, and when you get large gatherings of people, you’re actually increasing it,” said Vaughan Mayor Maurizio Bevilacqua, in response to criticism, during a taped interview with CityNews. “So our decision was based on what we know at the moment to be true...and use all measures at [our] disposal.”

Dr. Karim Kurji, York Region’s Medical Officer of Health, publicly opposed the move, saying the use of outdoor facilities should be encouraged and regulated by the City to help promote mental health and exercise.

Most municipalities in the GTA, including Toronto and Mississauaga have kept these amenities open during the current emergency order, which allows the use of such facilities.

Keeping outdoor recreational activities, such as Brampton’s Winter Wonderland program, open has been supported by many infectious disease specialists who recognize the need for healthy, active alternatives during a lockdown. Public health officials have pointed out that if residents do not have the opportunity to exercise and get outside, mental health can suffer, and people might be pushed to violate other rules if they feel restrictions are unreasonable.

“From our perspective, here at the Region of Peel, we know that it is ultimately [about] trying to balance outdoor recreation and an opportunity for individuals to exercise, which remains an essential reason to be out of one's home,” said Dr. Lawrence Loh, Peel’s Medical Officer of Health, at Mississauga’s weekly press conference on Wednesday.

“Region-hopping has always been a challenge or problem, but I imagine there are ways to address that,” said Dr. Loh, pointing to online booking tools and capacity limits that would help mitigate that risk. “It’s always been [the] recommendation, if you are unable to maintain two metres of distance – even outside – that you should be wearing a mask.”

In a test of Brampton’s booking system, The Pointer was able to reserve a time at Gage Park using a registration account that listed a non-Brampton postal code as a home address.

Mobility patterns analyzed by Peel Public Health using Google’s anonymized, aggregate cellphone location data show that during the first emergency declaration in March, there was a 60 percent drop in trips to workplaces, retail and other recreational locations, and a 20 percent increase in time spent at home. Second wave trends show that the time at home had increased by 21 percent in the first week of January this year, compared to 14 percent in October, which is measured against a January 2020 baseline of pre-pandemic, at-home time.

The analysis, which appears in Peel Region’s January 15 epidemiological report, shows Brampton had a 17.6 percent positivity rate for the week ending on January 9; anything above 2.5 percent indicates viral spread in a jurisdiction is not under control.

Brampton’s incidence rate was at 351.8 cases per 100,000 residents, for the week ending January 9, compared to 284 in Caledon and 200 in Mississauga. Ontario’s incidence rate was a little more than half of Brampton’s during the same period.

Despite Premier Doug Ford’s pleas for Ontarians to stay home, barring essential trips, attending a recreational setting is another choice Peel residents can consider. As previously reported in The Pointer, despite the stay-at-home order, a flight out of Toronto Pearson International Airport, to get a resident from Peel to Miami, or many other destinations, is still allowable, though not advised, another confusing reality of the Province’s state of emergency order.

Email: vjosa.isai@thepointer.com

Twitter: LaVjosa

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Vjosa Isai, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Pointer