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.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

(Pexels photo)
Okanagan film boom owes to industry’s strong pandemic response: Sandhu

Vernon-Monashee MLA Harwinder Sandhu lauded the local film industry’s adaptation to the pandemic

The City of Vernon is still taking applications for council discretionary grants until April 30. (File photo)
Funding available to Vernon non-profits, societies

Grants awarded to organizations that ‘contribute to the general interest and advantage of the city;’ deadline is April 30

A sani-dump station is coming to the frontage road off Okanagan Landing Road. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
New Vernon sani-dump station raises a stink among neighbours

Temporary relocation to Okanagan Landing with future plan at former Kin racetrack

The Wild Oak Cafe in Armstrong is one of the available squares in the Armstrong Spallumcheen Chamber of Commerce's Bingo game to support local businesses. (Facebook)
Bingo boosts Armstrong eateries

Armstrong Spallumcheen Chamber launches #BoostOurBiz featuring bingo card which would win you prizes

Vernon Fire Rescue Services will conduct a controlled burn in the Foothills area Friday, April 16. (Black Press file photo)
UPDATED: Controlled Foothills burn cancelled

Vernon Fire Rescue Services had planned for a controlled burn in Foothills on Friday, April 16

Arlene Howe holds up a picture of her son, Steven, at a memorial event for drug overdose victims and their families at Kelowna’s Rotary Beach Park on April 14. Steven died of an overdose at the age of 32 on Jan. 31, 2015. (Aaron Hemens - Kelowna Capital News)
Moms Stop the Harm members placed crosses Wednesday morning, April 14, on Rotary Beach in memory of children lost to drug overdoses. (Aaron Hemens - Capital News)
Kelowna mothers remember children lost to the opioid crisis

It has been five years since illicit drug deaths was announced a public health emergency

Richmond RCMP Chief Superintendent Will Ng said, in March, the force received a stand-out number of seven reports of incidents that appeared to have “racial undertones.” (Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
‘Racially motivated’ incidents on the rise in B.C’s 4th largest city: police

Three incidents in Richmond are currently being invested as hate crimes, says RCMP Chief Superintendent Will Ng

Commercial trucks head south towards the Pacific Highway border crossing Wednesday (April 14, 2021). The union representing Canadian border officers wants its members to be included on the frontline priority list for the COVID-19 vaccine. (Aaron Hinks photo)
CBSA officers’ union calls for vaccine priority in B.C.

Border officers at ports including, YVR and land crossings should ‘not be left behind’

A still from the video taken of a violent arrest on May 30, 2020 in downtown Kelowna. (File)
Kelowna Mountie charged with assault for caught-on-camera violent arrest

Const. Siggy Pietrzak was filmed punching a suspected impaired driver at least 10 times during an arrest

Missy MacKintosh, founder of MisMacK Clean Cosmetics, smiles broadly beneath her mask as she is thrilled to have opened her new storefront location at 231 Alexander St. in Salmon Arm on April 10, 2021. (Martha Wickett-Salmon Arm Observer)
Downtown Salmon Arm store ‘a dream come true’ for clean cosmetics owner

Missy MacKintosh’s MisMack Clean Cosmetics moves from home basement to storefront

A member of the Oliver Fire Department works on the wildfire near the Cottages at Osoyoos Lake on Tuesday night. The fire is believed to have been caused by a human. (Oliver Fire Department Facebook)
UPDATE: Osoyoos wildfire believed to be human-caused

The Oliver Fire department also responded to another fire along the hike and bike trail on Saturday

(Amandalina Letterio - Capital News)
Kelowna demonstrators show support for Vancouver Island logging activists

Two Kelowna men stood atop a pedestrian bridge on Harvey Avenue to raise awareness about old-growth forests

desert hills estate winery grapes
Osoyoos winery back in business after clean bill of health

Desert Hills chose to temporarily close after a close contact tested positive for COVID

A screenshot from a Nuu-chah-nulth healing song and performance created in collaboration between Hjalmer Wenstob and Timmy Masso. (Screenshot from YouTube)
WATCH: Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation brothers produce COVID-19 healing song

Hjalmer Wenstob and Timmy Masso share dance and inspiration.

Most Read