Ottawa councillors join call to reopen outdoor sports amenities in Ontario
OTTAWA -- There is growing support from Ottawa councillors to reopen golf courses and other outdoor recreation spaces like tennis courts, which were closed after Ontario imposed a province-wide stay-at-home order to try and limit rising COVID-19 cases.
Golf in April should be a sensational start to the season but instead, every course in Ontario has been closed. It’s not what Steve Spratt, owner at Falcon Ridge Golf Club was expecting.
“We did everything right last year and we figured we would just go ahead the same this year,” says Spratt, who has operated the course for more than 20 years. “Last year, we were really busy and we did everything safely. We had no incidents here; in fact, in Ontario, there was 20 million golfers, not one case of COVID originated from a golf course.”
As provincial officials announced an extension of the four-week stay-at-home order on April 16, golf courses, along with outdoor recreation spaces like tennis courts and baseball diamonds were closed. Playgrounds were also made off-limits, but that decision was quickly reversed after appeal from the public.
Calls have been made to reopen golf courses, one petition has more than 91,000 signatures asking the province to reconsider what many feel is a physically-distanced, safe outdoor sport.
Ottawa councillor Diane Deans is also in support of re-opening golf courses and plans to send a letter to the Premier Doug Ford in the hopes he will reconsider the closure.
“I don’t think that allowing people onto a golf course in a socially distanced appropriate way is going to lead to any worse health outcomes,” says Deans. “Any outdoor activity that can be done in a safe way should be allowed to happen, so whether that be tennis or pickleball, any recreational activity I think we should allow that to happen for the health and wellbeing of our citizens.”
However, Mayor Jim Watson said Thursday he didn't sign the letter because the city's medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches says outdoor recreational amenities should remain closed.
"As mayor, I have a responsibility to back our medical officer of health," Watson told CTV Morning Live. "Her advice at this point is those kinds of activities should remain closed."
Deans says other city councillors are willing to lend their voices and hopes officials from surrounding municipalities will too. While Deans understands the need for restrictions, and decisions on what to close can be complicated, she adds that rules must be fair, evidence-based, have scientific merit and lead to better health outcomes.
“If you're not meeting that task then people start questioning the rules and I think that’s where we’re at right now with golf,” says Deans.
Ottawa's medical officer of health, Dr. Vera Etches, says with the current case-load and increased strain on hospitals, a regional reopening is not likely yet.
“We need to continue to bring the levels down so we can get schools open, for instance, as the first thing,” says Dr. Etches. “It’s a bit too early to be talking about lifting of restrictions, but it will come, and we’re thinking ahead particularly around when can we open schools again.”
Ontario's stay-at-home order is expected to end May 20.