Risk mitigation tool for outdoor recreation spaces and activities operating during the COVID-19 pandemic

Objective: This tool will assist in considering risks associated with the use of parks and outdoor recreational spaces during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, and provide examples of strategies that may be implemented to reduce potential risks.

Audience: Those responsible for parks and outdoor recreational places and programming (e.g., federal/provincial/territorial and local/municipal authorities, Indigenous leadership, sports and recreation organizations and coaches and leaders).

Outdoor recreation spaces or recreational activities that require staff (for example to accept payment for entrance fees, to provide food and beverage services, etc.) should also refer to the tool for workplaces and businesses for guidance on risk assessment and risk mitigation related to business operations.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many provinces and territories closed or restricted access to outdoor recreational spaces. Refer to your provincial or territorial website for updates on the restriction of outdoor recreation spaces and activities. As provinces and territories begin to lift or adjust restrictive public health measures, it is important that those responsible for outdoor recreational space and activities consider the possible risks, and identify and implement risk mitigation measures when re-opening or operating during the COVID-19 pandemic. This tool is a resource intended to be used alongside and in support of guidance from provincial/territorial health authorities and other relevant ministries, and Indigenous community governance structures. Guidance from provincial/territorial health authorities will consider local epidemiology, which varies widely across the country. Therefore, implementation of guidance is not expected to be uniform throughout Canada.

For the purposes of this document, outdoor recreation spaces include spaces such as municipal or public parks, community gardens, hiking paths and trails, dog parks, playgrounds, skate parks, outdoor pools, splash pads, beaches, piers and campgrounds. Outdoor recreational activities include activities such as team sports (e.g. baseball, soccer, lacrosse, street hockey), individual sports (e.g., skateboarding, golf, tennis), as well as activities such as tai chi, cycling, fishing, water based activities and hunting. Throughout this document, the term "participants" is used to describe users of outdoor recreational spaces, as well as participants in activities.

Access to outdoor recreation spaces varies widely among Canadians. For example, Canadians living in low-income neighbourhoods generally have more limited access to sports and recreation facilities. Similarly, persons with disabilities tend to experience constraints in accessing outdoor recreation spaces and those living in apartments or condos tend to rely on public parks and spaces more than Canadians in single family home to get outdoors. Such inequities may be amplified by certain public health measures and the social impacts of the pandemic. Equitable access to outdoor recreational spaces is an important consideration in terms of encouraging physical activity and promoting population health.Footnote 1

Public health measures taken by participants, organizers, and operators for outdoor recreational spaces and activities are part of Canada's collective approach to mitigate the transmission of COVID-19. While there is currently preliminary evidence suggesting that the risk of coronavirus transmission is greater in indoor compared to outdoor settings, the potential contribution of outdoor recreation to the spread of COVID-19 is unknown. This tool is based on concepts outlined in the guidance developed for community-based measures entitled: Community-Based Measures to Mitigate the Spread of Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) in Canada. It reflects the currently available scientific evidence and expert opinion, and is subject to change as new information on transmissibility, epidemiology, and effectiveness of public health and risk mitigation measures becomes available.

What are the COVID-19 risks associated with the use of outdoor recreation spaces and activities?

The following facts about COVID-19 and associated questions can help you consider the risks of COVID-19 in outdoor spaces and during outdoor recreational activities.

The risk level is affected by whether there is COVID-19 activity in the local community. If there is known COVID-19 activity in the community, the likelihood that it could be introduced into an outdoor space or recreational activity is higher. The risk of COVID-19 introduction and spread is also presumed to be greater if a higher proportion of individuals visiting the outdoor spaces or participating in the activity comes from outside of the community. Measures put in place to mitigate risk should be proportionate with the risk in the community, which is informed by the local epidemiology. Public health authorities (PHAs) can be consulted for information about local COVID-19 transmission.

COVID-19 spreads from person to person, most commonly through respiratory droplets (e.g., generated by coughing, sneezing, laughing, singing, or talking) during close interactions (i.e., within 2 metres). People who have COVID-19 may have few to no symptoms, or symptoms may be mild, and people are infectious to others prior to when their symptoms start.

COVID-19 can also be spread through touching something with the virus on it, then touching your mouth, nose or eyes before washing your hands.

COVID-19 can cause more severe disease or outcomes among older adults (increasing risk with each decade, especially over 60 years); people of any age with chronic medical conditions (e.g., lung disease, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney disease, liver disease, stroke or, dementia); people of any age who are immunocompromised, including those with an underlying medical condition (e.g., cancer) or taking medications which lower the immune system (e.g., chemotherapy); and people living with obesity (BMI of 40 or higher).

COVID-19 spread can be reduced by consistently practicing personal protective practices.

How can COVID-19 risks be mitigated in outdoor recreational spaces and activities?

To prevent or limit the spread of COVID-19 in community-based settings such as an outdoor space or during a recreational activity, consider the following risk mitigation principles and measures. Risk mitigation measures that are more protective involve separating people from each other or shared surfaces through physical distancing and physical barriers. Measures that are less protective rely on individuals to consistently follow personal protective practices (e.g., use of personal protective equipment, wearing of non-medical masks). To maximize safety, use a "layered" approach with multiple measures to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spread, including decreasing the number of interactions with others and increasing the safety of interactions. Layering of multiple mitigation measures strengthens the risk mitigation potential overall. The following examples of risk mitigation measures are provided for your consideration. The following list is not exhaustive - you are encouraged to find creative and adaptive ways to mitigate risk in your setting that align with public health advice.

Discourage people who are ill from accessing the outdoor space or participating in outdoor activities.

Promote and facilitate personal protective practices. Everyone plays a part in making outdoor recreational spaces and activities safer.

Promote physical distancing (i.e., keeping a distance of 2 metres from others), which is one of the most effective ways to reduce the spread of illness.

Mitigate risks from exposure to high-touch surfaces (i.e., surfaces frequently touched by others).

Mitigate risks during community based outdoor sports (e.g., house-league outdoor community sports programs).

Mitigate risk for people at risk of more severe disease or outcomes.

Modify the outdoor space or activity to reduce how long participants are in contact with each other and how many participants come into contact with each other.

Should users of outdoor recreational spaces wear masks?

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