stay at home order

People are surprised how busy Toronto parks have been during the stay-at-home order

Toronto was just graced with another gorgeous spring weekend, and with no patio meals, sports games, music festivals or other activities typical of the season to take part in, residents got outside to enjoy themselves and the weather in one of the few ways they still can: by hitting up their local parks.

With double digit temps and only a touch of rain, the city's green spaces were essentially as busy as they would be any other weekend during the warm months — with the public unhindered, it seems, by the provincewide shutdown that commenced on April 3 and the stay-at-home order that went into effect on April 8.

Photos and videos taken over the weekend at parks such as King West's Stanley Park and West Queen West's Trinity-Bellwoods showed people lounging around with friends, enjoying some snacks, imbibing with a few drinks, and playing some spike ball, among other things, as could be expected on any nice Saturday or Sunday.

But some passersby were not exactly thrilled about the level of activity in the public spaces given that citizens are being asked to stay home as much as possible and only leave for essential purposes such as getting groceries, attending doctor's appointments and exercising right now.

Hanging out in a park obviously does not fall into any of these categories, though health officials have been encouraging people to get outside in recent weeks.

That messaging was stronger, though, before the province's daily case counts began consistently spiking above the 2,000 mark, then the 3,000 mark, then the 4,000 mark, which we hit on Thursday, and again on Saturday and Sunday.

Though walking through a park still seems to be considered acceptable behaviour, getting together socially in one now appears to have become frowned upon once more under the new stay-at-home order, especially given that outdoor gatherings are currently limited to five people, with exceptions for those who live together in one household or live alone.

But if such smaller gatherings are still permitted, why can't they take place in a park? Especially given that many of us don't have access to another outdoor space, that indoor private gatherings have been fully banned in the city since November, and that transmission risk has proven to be lower outdoors.

The key problem with this weekend's festivities seems to be the sheer volume of people from different households, maskless and in close proximity. (Things like the famous painted circles in Bellwoods definitely would have helped, but have yet to make an appearance this year.)

Some of the activities going down also really felt like they were pushing it, as far as the rules are concerned.

One example would be the full-on bands and DJs that set up shop in both of the aforementioned parks — lovely, but perhaps a little too reminiscent of outdoor concerts, which haven't been allowed in over a year, along with any other type of major event.

In fact, virtual concerts aren't even allowed at the moment, but somehow people gathering around live musicians in a park is still happening.

Just a quick glance at the open spaces teeming with hundreds of people was enough to make many cringe and run the other way.

The anti-lockdown protesters that decided to crash Bellwoods on Saturday afternoon didn't help the situation, either.

And while many have taken to social media to express their disappointment with parkgoers and the lax enforcement of the blanket stay-at-home order, others who are feeling the COVID fatigue had more of a "so, what's the problem?" reaction (a verbatim comment on blogTO's Instagram video of Bellwoods on Saturday).

It's clear that tensions are high and divides are wide, as they have been for some time, with calls to both open things up further and lock things down harder as we wade into our 21st week without salons and personal care services, 27th week without gyms and indoor dining, and after having only two weeks of patio season since November.

As for the parkgoing crowd, they may want to cool it on the all-day partying in groups, though the jury's still out on sitting on benches, which was at this time last year a ticketable offense.

Lead photo by

Fareen Karim

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