People flocked to Toronto parks this weekend despite orders to stay home and social distance
It's been nearly three weeks since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, setting off a chain of border closures, emergency declarations and strict orders from government officials all over North America.
Toronto has been under a city-wide state of emergency since last Monday, and a provincial state of emergency for just shy of two weeks. Public health officials have been advising everyone in the city, save for those who provide essential services, to "just stay home" when at all possible since March 17.
For the most part, residents have been keen to oblige in an effort to flatten the curve" (read: slow the spread of COVID-19) — but as the days in relative isolation wear on, it's become apparent that not everyone is willing to follow the rules... as least not for very long.
We went walking today and thought we might skirt around Trinity Bellwoods. It was FULL of people. Couples playing frisbee. Groups sitting and chatting. People think just because you’re not hugging one another it’s fine.— RevDaniel (@RevDaniel) March 30, 2020
We ended up turning around and walking straight home.
Thousands of people were spotted out and about in the city this weekend, taking advantage of the gorgeous spring weather in parks and along city trails.
This behaviour itself is not against the rules — which, for the record, grew more stringent on Saturday when Ontario dropped the attendance limit for social gatherings from 50 to five.
Canada's federal government maintains that walking and jogging outdoors is permitted for individuals who have not been diagnosed with or have symptoms of COVID-19, as well as for those who haven't recently travelled abroad.
What's not permitted is congregating in groups, making use of park facilities or walking within two metres of humans you don't already live with.
As good as their intentions may be, few can actually pull off the whole "six feet / two metres" things when there are hundreds of people in their immediate proximity.
"So many people in my neighbourhood are out walking around and observing social distancing that cars are having a hard time driving down the streets," wrote one local on Twitter Sunday afternoon.
"When the sun comes out, I've never seen so many people walking down our street," wrote another.
Many of those out walking along Toronto's waterfront over the weekend were likely just getting some much-needed fresh air and had no intentions of violating provincial orders.
The problem is that, with such a high volume of these well-intentioned people outside, it becomes physically impossible not to violate social distancing orders.
Toronto waterfront Sun afternoon. Social distancing? What social distancing? Not good. pic.twitter.com/ayTyP8nDox— Adam Tanton (@adamtanton) March 30, 2020
There are some, however, whose actions are intentionally inconsiderate — if not downright malicious.
Playdates, neighbourhood meetups and getting together with friends for casual soccer matches is 100 per cent out of the question right now, and yet many continue to defy these orders.
"Where can we report ongoing issues with this?" asked one resident of city spokesperson Brad Ross on Sunday night. "There's a 20+ player soccer game nightly at Weston Lions park."
The answer, by the way, is 311.
Even worse are people openly defying measures put into place by the city to protect its residents.
Tearing down CLOSED signs at parks? Ripping caution TAPE off playgrounds? C’mom Toronto! We have a DUTY to protect others from #COVID19. We can stop this thing. Stay home, practice physical distancing, and do the right thing. Do it for someone you love, if not yourself.— Brad Ross (@bradrossTO) March 29, 2020
Toronto Mayor John Tory said on Sunday that he's been receiving reports of people knocking down signs and tearing off police tape to access playgrounds and outdoor workout equipment at local parks.
"I mean come on people. We are not doing this because we are trying not to be nice. We are doing this because this is what the health officials tell us we have to do to stop Toronto from going in the direction of New York City or worse," said Tory to CP24 of the phenomenon.
"We just can't do that. It would involve loss of life for our fellow Torontonians, it would involve a huge strain on the healthcare system with many more people becoming sick and it is going to involve this (the disruption to public life) lasting a lot longer."
@TorontosMayor this was today in Trinity Bellwood’s Park. Didn’t see any enforcement and if I’d just landed in Toronto I would have been surprised to learn parks are actually closed. pic.twitter.com/Z0JMe4h41H— Bryan Tenenhouse (@tenenhouse) March 30, 2020
Some 700 people are said to have called 311 to complain of people violating social distancing rules on Friday and Saturday, according to The Toronto Star, with The Beaches and Trinity Bellwoods Park accounting for many of the complaints.
"Every day this week I've done my run through Trinity Bellwoods Park and have never seen more than 20 people around the park within half an hour," wrote one local on Twitter Sunday afternoon. "BUT TODAY there were close to 300 people in the park. Brought my ass right back home."
Others reported such sightings as "six guys having a drinking party on a picnic table" and "people drinking alcohol in groups and not observing social distancing."
If you could walk down queen and into trinity bellwoods park with a megaphone telling ppl to stay home.. That would be great ...— Dunning-Kruger (@lullhater) March 29, 2020
As of Sunday, Toronto was reporting 540 cases of the 2019 novel coronavirus. Thirty-nine people have been hospitalized locally, 18 are currently in ICU and four have died to date.
More than 6,255 cases of COVID-19 have now been diagnosed in Canada, 1,355 of them in Ontario. Sixty-one people have now died across the country as a result of the outbreak.
Globally, 634,835 cases had been confirmed as of Sunday with 29,891 deaths recorded across the world.
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