As Sask. enacts gathering restrictions, experts urge caution outdoors and at playgrounds

·3 min read
As Sask. enacts gathering restrictions, experts urge caution outdoors and at playgrounds
A kindergarten student in Toronto is pictured wearing a mask in the playground in February. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)
A kindergarten student in Toronto is pictured wearing a mask in the playground in February. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)

As COVID-19 cases rise in Saskatchewan, the province has introduced new restrictions, including limiting gatherings indoors and out.

Household bubbles in the province are now limited to members of an immediate household, although individuals who live alone are permitted to meet with one consistent household of fewer than five people.

It's a decision that is being welcomed by two experts CBC spoke with. Both said interactions outdoors and indoors should be as limited as possible.

Nazeem Muhajarine, a professor at the University of Saskatchewan's college of medicine who specializes in epidemiology, said COVID-19 variants of concern have changed how scientists assess outdoor interactions.

"I don't think this is the time to be gathering outside with groups of people and spending time together," said Nazeem Muhajarine, a professor at the University of Saskatchewan's college of medicine, specializing in epidemiology.

The variants spread more easily — even outdoors.

Muhajarine said a walk outside with one or two people in your household is a good way to get exercise and get out of the house.

He goes for walks, although he said he tries to avoid busy trails and sticks to his local neighbourhood.

But larger outdoor gatherings such as barbecues should be off the table right now, he said.

Caution for parents at playgrounds

Maygen Kardash is a parenting blogger in Saskatoon.

She said her kids wear masks outdoors — especially at playgrounds — because other children aren't great at distancing.

"I know that there are a lot of variants that are travelling easier more quickly and I know that the recommendation is that if you can't keep a distance, even if you're outdoors, that you are masked," Kardash told CBC's Saskatoon Morning.

She doesn't think masking should be made mandatory but wants more action taken.

Kardash said she'd like to see the province or city government implement signage reminding parents about having their children wear masks, especially at public gathering places like parks or playgrounds.

"I will keep going to playgrounds. I'm hoping that other parents will take the same kinds of precautions that I am and I'm just very vigilant about if people are getting kind of close to my kid," she said.

"I just remind my children, 'Oh, let's give them a little bit of space, you know, keep it friendly, keep it light.'"

Colin Furness, an infection control epidemiologist and an assistant professor at the University of Toronto. says that outdoor transmission is happening as a result of COVID-19 variants.

"So the situation has changed and close contact outdoors is clearly a lot riskier than it was," Furness told CBC's Saskatoon Morning.

Furness said masks at a playground aren't a horrible idea.

He said children should be relatively safe when they play as long as kids don't bunch up or gather in a group around something like a slide.

"I would actually try and discourage that. I would say aim for the parts of the playground where there isn't going to be that kind of activity because, yeah, I'm concerned about that," Furness said.

Furness echoed Muhajarine's call for a cautious approach to outdoor gatherings,

"Going outside is a great thing to do, and I don't want anyone to think that it isn't for mental health, for physical health," Furness said.

But any gathering outdoors with lots of people who are close to each other is going to be risky, he said.

Kardash said she hopes everyone starts taking more precautions.

She called back to the start of the pandemic in 2020, when playgrounds were taped off and unavailable to the public in areas across Canada.

"It was such a sad moment for everyone. So I don't think that we need to be going back to that. I really don't. I think that there's a good middle ground and it just involves masking and maybe taking some sanitizer," Kardash said.