As a regional approach to Stage 2 of reopening the province begins on Friday, Dr. Charles Gardner, Simcoe Muskoka Medical Officer of Health, admits enforcement will be limited.
Among the businesses and facilities permitted to open are hair and beauty salons, tattoo parlours, beaches, restaurant patios, swimming pools and splash pads, and beach access at Ontario provincial parks.
Only a handful of locations in Ontario will remain at Stage 1 including the GTA-Hamilton area and several places along the Canada/U.S. border.
Gardner said the health unit has provided guidelines to municipalities when it comes to reopening beaches. He said the goal is to facilitate physical distancing and maintain lower numbers of people who have access to beaches at any one time.
“Enforcement will be limited. It is not going to carry the day. People need to understand and abide by these things themselves. People have to continue to seek a two-metre distance even when enjoying a splash pad, a walk in the community or being on the beach.”
Gardner said they can’t be everywhere to enforce it.
If crowding at beaches becomes an issue, Gardner said he does have the power to close them but said that would be a last resort. Municipalities and Ontario Parks have the ability to close their beaches if needed.
“We want to continue flattening the curve and we want to limit the virus, while at the same time use public locations for the public to enjoy.”
Gardner said part of moving into Stage Two will be learning to live with the virus.
The health unit recommends municipalities encourage visitors to use beaches close to their own communities, post signage on roads leading to the beach area and post screening signs at all entrances and ensure everyone self-screens before coming to the beach.
Municipalities are urged to develop a beach plan to ensure physical distancing is maintained by individuals while in the water and while on the shore, and this should include a process for enforcement and crowd control. The health unit said this can include a dedicated beach entrance and exit.
Gardner also addressed recent anti-Black racism protests.
There have been several rallies across the region including two in Barrie, one which attracted more than 1,000 people.
Gardner said racism is a public health matter and people have the right democratically to demonstrate on matters of this kind of importance. He said people need to do it carefully and organizers need to promote physical distancing among those who are participating.
This comes as one city councillor says Barrie has lost the moral authority to lay any COVID-19-related charges against residents, after failing to do so during recent protests in the city. “If we don’t have the moral authority, I think it undermines our legal authority to be enforcing these fines,” said Councillor Sergio Morales. Since the declaration of the state of emergency, just under 8,000 incidences have been investigated by Barrie City Hall, the vast majority ending through discussion and education instead of handing out a fine.
“The rally was important, but it’s the double standard, its the hypocrisy,” he added. “You are able to support the issue of systemic racism, you should also be able to address the fact that some people have sacrificed and haven’t seen their loved ones for four months feel a bit sour.”
Councillor Natalie Harris says she was overwhelmed with messages regarding a demonstration in Barrie, saying many were upset there was no enforcement of COVID-19 rules during the gathering. The City’s Community and Corporate Services Director, Dawn McAlpine, pointed out there were only two by-law officers on duty during Thursday’s demonstration, and to have only two people trying to enforce COVID-19 guidelines would be a risk to their health as well.
Thousands attended a gathering in Barrie on Thursday, hundreds on Saturday, a handful on Monday.
If you plan to attend such rallies, Gardner said individuals should wear a facial covering.
Garnder also recommends that people use signage to get their message across rather than shouting or singing, which he said can lead to droplet production and transmission of COVID-19.