Folks were finally able to take in some warm summer weather at Main Beach in Cultus Lake Park on Tuesday, July 14, 2020. (Jenna Hauck/ The Progress)

Folks were finally able to take in some warm summer weather at Main Beach in Cultus Lake Park on Tuesday, July 14, 2020. (Jenna Hauck/ The Progress)

As weather warms, better messaging needed around low outdoor COVID risk: experts

The message? If you’re going to socialize, take it outside

Images of friends sitting spaced out on a backyard patio table, or chatting on opposite ends of a park bench are part of a new COVID-19 ad campaign from Britain’s National Health Service.

The message? If you’re going to socialize, take it outside.

As warm spring weather begins to envelop the Canadian provinces, experts here say it’s time to embrace similar rhetoric.

While they stress that no gathering is without risk entirely when it comes to COVID-19, dangers of transmission decrease considerably in outdoor environments.

Nice weekend weather tends to precipitate the same type of posts on social media from people sharing photos — mostly of younger populations — seemingly crowding parks, beaches and boardwalks, with captions and comments lambasting them for doing so.

Dr. Kwadwo Kyeremanteng, a critical care and palliative physician in Ottawa, says online shaming is not only unhelpful, but dangerous.

“What’s the repercussions for a 21-year-old that’s being shamed for being outside with friends and abiding by public health recommendations?” he said. “I would way rather see that than them (gathering) inside to avoid being shamed and ridiculed.”

Kyerementang says public health guidance could benefit from shifting to a “harm reduction” focus that promotes safe alternatives to risky behaviour. That, he says, would allow people to “still be human beings,” and maintain social connections that can improve mental health.

After a year of varying pandemic restrictions and open-and-close lockdown periods, he says people are struggling to understand what’s allowed and what isn’t.

Some are also dealing with conflicting emotions of fear and hope at this stage of the pandemic, says Hilary Bergsieker, an associate psychology professor at the University of Waterloo.

While the effectiveness of COVID vaccines has brought some relief, the looming threat of further lockdowns as a third wave gathers steam in parts of the country means some could be in for a tough spring mentally.

“The stay-home, save-lives, nobody-do-anything phase, that’s not a proven public policy strategy,” Bergsieker said, likening pandemic guidance to sexual health discussions where abstinence-only messaging often falls flat.

“You can’t just tell people to completely abstain from everything that they enjoy.”

Bergsieker says the relatively low risk of outdoor transmission can allow for a “more realistic approach” to policy guidance that gives people some freedom to socialize in safer ways. But she adds, public health needs to be clear on levels of risk associated with certain activities.

“What we need to be thinking about at this point is harm reduction, not harm elimination,” she said.

And if lower-risk outdoor socializing replaces higher-risk indoor gatherings, that’s a win, says Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious disease expert with McMaster University.

“People think any risk is something we don’t need to (take on). … But those discussions detract from the harm-reduction part of the outdoors,” he said.

“We’re looking at potentially one or two cases that may come out of thousands of outdoor interactions, when we should (be looking at) the type of indoor interactions that are prevented by people getting outdoors.”

While more contagious variants of the COVID virus, which are making up an increasing number of new cases across the country, have led some to wonder if outdoor interactions are more risky now, experts say the chance of spread is still low outside.

That’s not to say we should throw caution completely to the wind however, says Dr. Ilan Schwartz, an infectious disease specialist with the University of Alberta.

Physical distancing and masking, in some cases, should still be practised outdoors, he said.

Chagla says masks can be helpful during outdoor protests, for example, when people are close together and shouting. But they’re likely not necessary when passing by someone on a sidewalk.

That doesn’t change whether we’re dealing with variant forms of the virus or not, Schwartz says.

“We don’t have any evidence that there’s any different physical properties of the variants that are going to allow the virus particles to traverse greater distances,” he said.

“As long as people are are following the public health guidance — not congregating too closely in too large of a group — there really is exceptionally low risk of outdoor transmission.”

Melissa Couto Zuber, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Just Posted

Members of Trail Firefighters Local 941 were hanging out in the station last week, practicing high angle rope rescue training. All members are trained in rope rescue, confined space rescue ,water rescue and vehicle extrication. Photos: Twitter @trailfire941
Rope rescue review at Kootenay Boundary fire hall

Created 39 years ago, Kootenay Boundary Regional Fire Rescue is a full service department

L-R: Honorary Lieutenant-Colonel (Retired) Sharman Thomas Senior, Private Sharman Thomas Junior, Major Nils French, and Chief Warrant Officer Sharman Thomas. Photo: Submitted
Trail Armoury marks historic moment when new member enrols

Private Thomas anticipates a rewarding career in the forces

Grand Forks Fire/Rescue volunteers doused a hillside fire late Monday night, May 17. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Grand Forks Fire/Rescue puts out hillside fire

No one was injured after a campfire got out of control below Columbia Drive

Michelle Jacobs receives her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at the Coast Capri Hotel on April 28, 2021. The pop-up clinic was hosted by the First Nations Health Authority. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)
126 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health over the weekend

There are 22 individuals hospitalized due to the virus, and 13 in intensive care

Lauren Regula
Trail native comes back for a third Olympic Games

Trail native Lauren Regula is proud to represent her country in softball at Tokyo Olympic Games

An avalanche near Highway 1 in Glacier National Park. Avalanche Canada will benefit from a $10 million grant from the B.C. government. (Photo by Parks Canada)
Avalanche Canada receives $10-million grant from B.C. government

Long sought-after funds to bolster organization’s important work

Grand Forks Fire/Rescue’s Dave Paulett hoses down a section of a wooden retaining wall which caught fire Monday, May 17. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Fire starts in Grand Forks backyard after by oily rags left in sun

Flames put out before reaching home on 800-block of 72nd Avenue

Sicamous RCMP Sgt. Murray McNeil and Cpl. Wade Fisher present seven-year-old Cody Krabbendam of Ranchero with an award for bravery on July 22, 2020. (Contributed)
7-year old Shuswap boy receives medal of bravery for rescuing child at beach

Last summer Cody Krabbendam jumped into the lake to save another boy from drowning

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry update the province’s COVID-19 vaccine program, May 10, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate stays below 500 a day over weekend

14 more deaths, down to 350 in hospital as of Monday

Royal Bay Secondary School’s rainbow crosswalk was vandalized shortly after being painted but by Monday, coincidentally the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, the crosswalk had been cleaned up and students had surrounded it with chalk messages of support and celebration. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
B.C. high’s school’s pride crosswalk restored following ‘hateful’ graffiti attack

Hate terms, racial slur, phallic images spray-painted at Greater Victoria high school

Terrance Mack would have celebrated his 34th birthday on May 13, 2021. Mack’s family has identified him as the victim of a homicide in an apartment on Third Avenue in Port Alberni sometime in April. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)
Family identifies Ucluelet man as victim of Vancouver Island homicide

Terrance Mack being remembered as ‘kind, gentle’ man

Vancouver Canucks’ Jake Virtanen (18) and Calgary Flames’ Josh Leivo, front right, vie for the puck as goalie Jacob Markstrom, back left, watches during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Vancouver, on Saturday, February 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Vancouver Canucks forward Jake Virtanen sued over alleged sexual assault

Statement of claim says the woman, identified only by her initials, suffered physical and emotional damages

An avalanche near Highway 1 in Glacier National Park. Avalanche Canada will benefit from a $10 million grant from the B.C. government. (Photo by Parks Canada)
Avalanche Canada receives $10-million grant from B.C. government

Long sought-after funds to bolster organization’s important work

Daily confirmed COVID-19 cases reported to B.C. public health, seven-day rolling average in white, to May 12, 2021. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C. preparing ‘Restart 2.0’ from COVID-19 as June approaches

Daily infections fall below 500 Friday, down to 387 in hospital

Most Read