With a stay-at-home order still in place for Ontario, could we avoid a May long weekend COVID-19 spike?
TORONTO -- Historically, Ontario has a troubled past with long weekends in the context of COVID-19. Even with a stay-at-home order in place through the upcoming Victoria Day long weekend, experts say we could still see a spike.
But some Toronto-area infectious disease specialists believe we could be doing things to mitigate that spike as much as possible.
On Thursday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced the province-wide stay-at-home order would be extended until at least June 2.
"The situation is slowly trending in a better direction. Make no mistake. We’re not out of the woods yet. Our hospitals are still under immense pressure, the spread of variants remains a major concern. So we must stay vigilant," Ford said.
For months, public health experts and political leaders have been weighing in on opening up safer, outdoor spaces during the stay-at-home order. No outdoor restrictions were eased during Thursday's announcement.
With the Victoria Day long weekend just around the corner, some experts believe we could see a spike in cases, even with the province-wide restrictions in place.
"The stay-at-home order going to June 2 means that you're going into a long weekend where people are going to make their own decision, particularly people who are vaccinated," infectious diseases specialist Dr. Zain Chagla tells CTV News Toronto. "If you can at least try to encourage people to be outdoors, give them the leeway to actually meet outdoors, I think you do achieve something: giving people (normalcy), but also probably preventing a lot of indoor events of people that have kind of made their decision in terms of congregating."
Infectious diseases specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch says no one should be surprised if we see a slight bump in cases in the week following the long weekend, as long as it's manageable.
"Inevitably, I think we're going to see a similar and predictable pattern of behaviour, some people might get together and we might see more COVID-19 transmission at that time," Bogoch says. "Things that are working in our favour — there's just fewer opportunities for indoor transmission in terms of the number of places that are open. Also, vaccines are really rolling out. So there's just more and more community level protection, as well. But again... it wouldn't come to anyone's surprise if there's a spike in cases."
Bogoch adds that spending time outdoors could do a lot of good in mitigating opportunities for transmission of the virus, despite no loosening of outdoor restrictions.
"Obviously, we can nitpick at these details. But I mean, the longer stay-at-home orders, while they are more challenging to deal with, that was clearly the right move," he says. "In a perfect world, we'd have the outdoors opened up, but you know, here we are."
WHAT TO DO OUTDOORS
Chagla has long advocated for more promotion of outdoor activities, and he wants to see cities get creative in allowing residents to enjoy some fun while the sun is shining.
"An outdoor movie, something like that, give people something cool to do that's very safe," Chagla says. "We've always had problems with long weekends. We've always had transmission around the time of long weekends, we've always had high case rates around long weekends. Whatever happens, people know that they've made their decision one way or another."
So if people have already decided that they want to skirt some public health measures and see a couple of family members or friends outside of their household, although he doesn't condone it, Chagla does have some advice.
"Don't share anything, don't share drinks, set up far apart," Chagla says. "To be fair, people have been doing this this whole time... do you want to empower people to actually do it properly or do you want to discourage it and have them do it without any particular guidance?"
There are some outdoor public spaces that are still accessible, like parks.
The City of Toronto set up physical distancing circles for another summer at the park, to give people the chance to get outside while maintaining proper distancing.