Ontario government must ‘immediately’ reopen outdoor spaces: Canadian Paediatric Society

The Canadian Paediatric Society is calling on the Ontario provincial government to “immediately” reopen outdoor recreation spaces, saying the closure is having “devastating effects” on children and youth amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

In an open letter posted to Twitter on Friday, the society said it “cannot overstate the extent of the mental health crisis facing our children and youth.”

“Our clinics and hospitals are overrun with families seeking care for children and youth in distress — eating disorders, anxiety, hopelessness, depression, problematic substance use and more.”

The letter is addressed to Premier Doug Ford, Education Minister Stephen Lecce and Sport Minister Lisa McLeod.

Read more: Ontario outdoor recreational facilities to stay closed until COVID-19 cases drop: minister

The ban on outdoor recreational facilities began in April, when the province imposed tighter restrictions and extended a stay-at-home order as new cases of the virus surged.

The paediatric society said it wrote the provincial government last month to express its concerns saying the measures would “further confine Ontario’s children and youth to their homes.”

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The province did allow playgrounds to reopen, but the Canadian Paedeatric society said that’s not enough.

“Although you reopened playgrounds, a range of spaces are still off-limits to children and youth, including soccer pitches, baseball diamonds and baseball courts,” the statement reads.

The letter says outdoor recreational spaces should immediately reopen, “unless (the government has) data showing these venues are sources of virus transmission.”

What’s more, experts have argued that the risk of COVID-19 transmission outdoors is much lower than during indoor activities.

Read more: Science suggests low risk of outdoor COVID-19 transmission. Here’s why

“You know, you’re taking away the safe options from people as you do nothing to impact the places where the disease is spreading at a time when our ICUs (intensive care units) are literally collapsing,” Dr. David Fisman, a professor at the University of Toronto and member of Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, told Global News in a previous interview.

Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases faculty member at the University of Toronto echoed Fisman’s remarks, saying closing recreational activities “does not make sense.”

“Outdoor activities are vital for mental & physical health, especially with stay-at-home orders,” he wrote in a tweet after the announcement.

“Science is clear: Outdoor COVID transmission is extremely rare,” he said.

However, on Tuesday, Ontario’s Health Minister Christine Elliot said such facilities will remain closed until the province’s cases drop significantly.

“We need to limit our mobility as much as possible to reduce transmission and we are going to be assessing this,” she said during a press conference.

“But for right now we will need to continue with those measures in place to reduce mobility and reduce transmission.”

Ontario added 3,166 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, pushing the provincial total to 486,223.

Twenty-three more fatalities were also recorded, meaning to date, 8,236 have died in the province after testing positive for COVID-19.

While the number of new cases has dropped since the peak in mid-April, as of Friday, the province was still reporting 3,265 new cases of the virus on average the last seven days.

Reopening schools

In the letter, the Canadian Paediatric Society also calls on the provincial government to “mobilize plans to safely re-open schools before the end of the 2020-21 year.”

On April 12, the Ford government announced students in the province would move to virtual learning indefinitely as the province struggled to contain the third wave of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Ontario students were originally supposed to return to in-person learning after taking a week off for their delayed March Break.

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Lecce said the decision was “about prevention.”

“It is a proactive and sadly necessary precaution as we tackle the third wave of COVID-19,” he said during a press conference in April.

“This was not a decision we made lightly, as we know how critical schools are to Ontario students,” he continued. “Our priority has always been to keep schools open, however sharply rising community transmission can put our schools and Ontario families at risk.”

Read more: COVID-19 has changed. Should our outdoor behaviour shift too?

The paediatric society’s letter is signed by Eddy Lau and Kimberly Dow, members of the Canadian Paediatric Society board, and the organization’s vice-president Mark Feldman.

“Ontario’s children and youth depend on all of us to protect them not just from COVID-19, but from the devastating effects of these public health measures,” the letter reads.

“We urge you to place a higher priority on their mental health and well-being.”

Global News has reached out to the Ford Government for comment regarding the letter but did not immediately hear back.

–With files from Global News’ Saba Aziz, Jessica Patton and The Canadian Press

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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