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Warm weather brings concerns over crowding, masking in Kitchener parks

Residents encouraged to enjoy outdoors for physical, mental wellbeing – though public health measures still apply

With summer just around the corner and many outdoor amenities still closed under the extended provincial stay-at-home order, many local residents have been flocking to our region’s parks to soak up the sun – leading to some concerns of over crowding and a relaxed adherence to public health guidelines.

With large crowds of individuals spotted enjoying Victoria Park over the last week, Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic said the city has been seeing a high volume of activity, along with a handful of complaints – varying from the number of people in the park to issues with physical distancing and individuals not wearing masks.

Speaking to 570 NEWS, Vrbanovic said city staff have been hearing the “general kinds of issues” that you would expect, as he reiterated that individuals visiting outdoor areas in the City of Kitchener should only be doing so with members of their own household – unless they live alone.

In regard to attending parks in the municipality, Vrbanovic added that common public health guidelines continue to apply as he encouraged individuals to maintain physical distancing, and to wear masks where physical distancing may not be possible or where there are large groups of people. While masks are not required outdoors in areas where physical distancing can be maintained, the City of Kitchener has since “strongly recommended” their use in city-owned parks, trails and open trail spaces.

“It really boils down to physical distancing,” said Vrbanovic. “If you can’t maintain physical distancing, and this is true everywhere, you’re required to have a mask on. That applies not just to Victoria Park or the Huron Natural Area, but on our trails and so on as well.”

In addition, Vrbanovic encouraged parents to consider having their children wear masks while on playgrounds, as he said it may be difficult to get young kids to maintain physical distancing while engaging in outdoor exercise.

“If we can encourage that behaviour as a way of further minimizing any risk, that’s always a positive right now,” he said.

According to Vrbanovic, both bylaw staff and ‘city park ambassadors’ are regularly patrolling city-owned parks in Kitchener, monitoring activity and reminding people of the rules in place to stem the spread of COVID-19. With nicer weather rolling in and people looking to get some physical activity in after a long winter, Vrbanovic said bylaw staff will continue to be focusing on education rather than enforcement, only issuing charges if people fail to comply with a request.

“I think with the extension of the stay-at-home orders, some were hoping there might be a relaxing of the guidelines with respect to outdoor activities,” said Vrbanovic. “That doesn’t appear to be the case, but I know that is something that continues to be talked about.”

When asked what his message was for those looking to enjoy the outdoors in Kitchener, Vrbanovic stressed that the focus continues to be on asking people to do “what the vast majority of people are doing” in working hard to follow the guidelines and care for each other.

Speaking to what he described as a feeling of “hope in the air” in terms of what summer and fall 2021 could look like, Vrbanovic said he’s hopeful people will “hang in there” as we continue to get COVID-19 infection numbers and hospitalizations down.

“It’s going to be a beautiful weekend and a beautiful week ahead,” said Vrbanovic. “Get out there for your physical and mental wellbeing and get some exercise but continue to do it safely. Maintain physical distancing, wear a mask, wash your hands or sanitize them regularly and together, we’ll get through this to an exciting summer and much better fall ahead.”

You can review the City of Kitchener’s guidelines for parks and trails under the stay-at-home order here.

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