With sunny spring weather forecast for Toronto this weekend, there seems to be a gulf appearing between the mayor and the city’s top doctor about whether or not residents should go outside this weekend.
Sunday’s day-time high is expected to be 21ºC Environment Canada says, with a mix of sun and clouds throughout the morning and afternoon. Given that many people have been staying mostly at home for weeks now, the lure of the outdoors may tempt even the most disciplined isolationists.
Mayor John Tory acknowledged as much in an interview with CBC Radio’s Metro Morning on Friday.
“I know people are going to go outside. It’s going be a glorious day on Sunday — that first day we have every spring where you feel like you can feel the warmth of the sun and you just want to be outside,” he said.
“I just think if people are careful and they’re mindful of the two meters they can go to the park, even though I know we’re supposed to be telling them to stay home.”
Indeed, “stay home” has been the consistent message from Dr. Eileen de Villa, the city’s medical officer of health. She has repeatedly said that residents should only go out for essential travel, though de Villa has encouraged exercise as a way to stay physically and mentally fit during the emergency measures that have been in place since March.
“But try to limit the amount of time that people are out there, so as not to risk crossing paths and inadvertently spreading COVID-19 or fuelling the spread of COVID-19 in our city,” de Villa said in her own interview with Metro Morning.
She added that she hopes a “majority of people” will continue to stay home whenever possible, despite the nice weather on the way.
“It’s really important in terms of … building on the success we’ve had thus far in managing COVID-19 in our community. We want to get our city back, to return to something resembling normal. And I think the fastest way for us to do that is to continue to stay the course,” de Villa told guest host Jill Dempsey.
The doctor’s primary concern is that in a place as dense as downtown Toronto, people outside may find themselves in a large group even though they intended to maintain proper distancing measures.
The Waterfront Business Improvement Area, which represents a coalition of businesses in the popular lakefront area in and around Queen’s Quay, echoed those concerns this week. The organization sent out a news release Friday morning encouraging residents to avoid peak times at the waterfront, namely between the hours of 11 a.m. and 6 p.m.
“The water is always a popular destination for people who want to get out and enjoy the warm weather,” said Tim Kocur, executive director of the Waterfront BIA.
“But public health is paramount right now. We encourage everyone to stay at home or visit during non-peak hours if you do choose to visit the waterfront this weekend.”
De Villa said she understands that the messaging may be frustrating, and, in some instances, rather confusing.
Earlier this week, for example, B.C.’s provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry encouraged residents there to get outside. Speaking to reporters, Henry said that the risk of COVID-19 transmission outside is “infinitesimally small” in most circumstances.
But not all jurisdictions can follow the same advice, de Villa said.
As for Tory, he said he is confident that residents will take responsibility and ensure they are maintaining safe physical distancing.
“I know the medical officer of health says people should stay home. And I know that’s her first choice because it’s simpler to not have to worry about how close people are to each other. But I’m realistic,” he explained.
“My hope is that we’re to the stage now where people are familiar enough with what they’re being asked to do in the interests of getting this emergency over with and getting back to more normal life that people will separate themselves.”